So what is an executive function? Can it really be changed? Executive functions refer to a set of skills that enables a person to manage themselves, their abilities, and their resources in order to achieve a goal.
Think of it as a conductor of an orchestra, who directs all the instruments and players to play at the right time, tempo, loudness, and key. He manages, directs, organizes and integrates each member of the orchestra. Without him, the music would not have the same smooth and rich tune. Or a CEO of a company, who leads her workers to success. Or even a coach of a sports team, who not only motivates her players but equips them with the tools and skills they need to win. Executive functioning is just like that.
Executive functions are basically the management system of the brain. These mental functions work together to help us organize and manage the many tasks in our daily life. Impairments in our executive functions, which are thought to involve the frontal lobes of the brain, can have a major impact on our ability to perform such tasks as planning, prioritizing, organizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and controlling our emotional reactions.
Leading expert, Dr. Russell Barkley defines executive functions (EF) as those “actions we perform for ourselves and direct at ourselves so as to accomplish self-control, goal-directed behavior, and the maximization of future outcomes.”
As such, executive functioning thinking skills allow us to create a picture of a goal, a plan to achieve that goal and the resources we expect to need along with way. The skills also enable us to remember the picture and consistently work towards it even though the goal may be far away and other events that come along to occupy our attention and take up space in our memory.
In their book, “Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents”, international executive functioning gurus, Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, sum it up as skills that “help guide our behavior as we move along the path.
What is most important, is to understand that executive functioning skills can be taught and developed with practice. The first step is to review your child’s skills and performance in daily tasks and behavior to identify areas that need attention. This can be done with a simple, quick questionnaire.