Dear Jacqui, I have been told that my child has difficulties with his executive function. Please can you explain what this is?

Executive function is like the manager of the brain. It ensures that tasks are achieved from the planning stage to the final outcome. When a child has issues with executive functioning, any task that requires planning, organization, memory, time management and flexible thinking becomes a challenge. These issues are common in children with learning and attention issues often related to ADHD, Autism spectrum and Learning difficulties.

Depending on their age, and usually by 7 years, a child will be able to:

  1. Work out what needs to be done on a task.
  2. Plan how to handle the task.
  3. Get organised. Break down the plan into a series of steps.
  4. Assess how much time is needed to carry out the plan, and set aside the time.
  5. Make adjustments as needed
  6. Finish the task in the time allotted.

If executive functioning is working well and the task is fairly simple, the brain may go through these steps rapidly. If a child has weak executive skills, though, performing even a simple task can be challenging. This starts to become apparent from age 7.

Executive functioning difficulties can lead to problems with:

  • Keeping track of time
  • Making plans
  • Making sure work is finished on time
  • Multitasking
  • Applying previously learned information to solve problems
  • Analysing ideas
  • Looking for help or more information when it is needed