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Executive Function

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Executive Function

Executive function or cognitive control is a construct that describes the interplay of interrelated cognitive processes and skills within the brain. Executive function allows students (and adults) to organize, control, coordinate, and accomplish tasks to achieve goals. In addition to these complex constructs, executive function supports a student's necessity to regulate their behavior and control their thoughts and emotions in new and stressful situations.


Executive function affects most things a student does daily from the time they wake up to going to sleep at night and includes effectively and efficiently engaging in social interactions, thinking about themselves and others, and academic performance across a school day and after school.  

Executive Functioning (EF) Skills are the neurological processes and mental skills that enable the student to engage in goal-directed behaviors. EF skills help students control attention, plan work time, problem-solve, remember directions, initiate tasks, organize materials, belongings, and thoughts, and use active self-control daily. These critical life skills work synergistically and are imperative for learning, maintaining relationships, and functioning independently and productively.


Executive functioning problems can manifest to varying degrees as academic, social, behavioral, and emotional difficulties as early as elementary school when these foundational skills start developing. Unaddressed, executive functioning problems can persist and continue to negatively impact a student's academic, behavior, emotional, and social success through the school years and beyond in life.  All students, whether intellectually neurotypical or those students with intellectually disabling conditions can benefit from executive skills training at a level that works for them functionally and consistently.


Executive functioning skills can be improved using expert analysis to identify and understand core deficits and intervene using systematic strategies,  training, and practice.  

Executive Functioning (EF) Skills

The awareness of time and the ability to estimate the time needed to complete various tasks, monitor the progress, to stay within the time frame, and develop a sense of efficiency to maintain a pace.

The ability to stop, think about the consequences of an action, before engaging, resist the urge to respond impulsively

A set of mental processes that assist in higher order thinking such as reasoning, decision making, problem-solving, using good judgement, analyzing


The ability to fluidly shift from one situation, activity, expectation, or strategy to another

The ability to hold, process, and manipulate info in ones mind  to complete tasks

The ability to start, maintain and complete goals despite distractions and other competing stimuli

Sustained  ability to maintain focus despite distractions and other competing stimuli

The ability to systematically arrange life skills including materials, personal effects, and the thoughts in one's mind for ease of retrieval.

The ability to create goals, plan the steps necessary to accomplish the goals and effortlessly decide the order of importance of each task

The ability to  monitor and evaluate own performance, understand own abilities, & maximize own productivity

Characteristics of challenges in executive capacities

Characteristics of challenges in executive capacities

Impairments in executive capacities may present as:

  • Seemingly "lazy" or excessively  "disorganized"

  • Forgets to turn in assignments

  • Can't find papers or items

  • Takes forever to start homework

  • Has frequent outbursts instead of verbally communicating

  • Trouble controlling emotions

  • Acts impulsively 

  • Difficulties prioritizing (play vs homework)

  • No sense of urgency

  • Requires frequent reminders for everything

  • Motivated to learn but can't move forward

  • Difficulty paying attention

  • Frequently engages in negative thinking and self-talk

  • Little self-awareness

  • Forgets to bring materials home to complete homework

  • Frequently procrastinates

  • Perseverative thinking "gets stuck"

  • Social challenges (i.e. maintaining friendships)

  • Difficulty remembering directions, activities, tasks, retaining facts, etc.

  • Challenges communicating thoughts accurately

Executive Functioning Skills: learned and practiced
at S.E.B.S. Brainery
Attentional Control

Finding focus, sustaining attention for lengthy lectures and challenging tasks, independently refocusing, maintaining attention despite distractions, developing, and using effective redirection strategies that work for you.

Self- Regulation

Understand and control your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and impulses. Being able to stop an action despite the reward, refrain from interrupting, avoid engaging in impulsive and or maladaptive behavior, calm the body quickly, developing and using strategies to regulate your emtions and behavior effectively.

Working Memory

Remembers multiple steps, recalls information without hesitation, remembers "why" using visualization to aid recall, remembering, and understanding, acts responsibly by considering prior knowledge, can work out basic math problems in the mind, comprehends by making connections, developing and using memory strategies that work for you.

Mental Flexibility

Open to changes in routines, thinks of a variety of solutions, transitions seamlessly, considers multiple perspectives, willing to compromise, negotiate, and let things go, has a flexible thought process, manages unforeseen events calmly, can change thinking with the change in conversations, initiates tasks b thinking positively, developing and using strategies to maintain fluid thinking.

Pivotal Thinking Skills

Include problem-solving, decision-making, reasoning, creativity, analyzing. These essential skills help a student consider information from various perspectives to make purposeful judgments in their daily lives. These "judgments" include; understand relationships between newly learned concepts, freely problem-solve in new and everyday situations, ability to estimate accurately, determine the best solution, predict and infer when reading, separate the main idea from the details, arrive at logical conclusions, identify problems, evaluate  work, developing logical arguments.


Includes positive mindset self-awareness, and self-analysis skills.  Self-analysis skills include being aware of your strengths and challenges, being able to monitor your own behavior and make adjustments as needed, using your inner voice to mentally problem solve, ask specific questions to help you understand, communicate wants and needs, knowing what helps you and what are potential triggers for maladaptive behaviors and brain and body dysregulation.  Self-mindset skills include thinking positively, redirecting negativity effectively, believing in your abilities, guide perception, thinking about others, developing and using positive mindset strategies.


Organization of materials and thought in your mind. Can keep track of belongings using systems, finds things quickly, remembers to bring home and take to school the right materials, can create and use systems to organize materials and thoughts, sees the need to organize independently, can narrate sequenced, concise, and logical thoughts, events, stories, developing and using organizational strategies.

Time Management

Awareness of the time, can guestimate how long, has a sense of urgency, meets deadlines, arrives slightly early or on-time, does not perseverate on time, remains calm when working on timed assignments, does not procrastinate, can prioritize and plan according to deadlines, abides by alarms and reminders, developing and using strategies to be efficient and effective.

Goal/Plan /Prioritize

Sets attainable goals an visualize the end product, , can plan out the steps necessary to meet the goals, organizes what needs to be done first and knows what can wait, understands the difference between the big idea and the details, can break down lengthy assignments into manageable parts, can stick to a plan, developing and using strategies that keep you on task, learning, and accomplishing your goals.

Goal-Directed Initiation and Persistence

Having the motivation/drive to see a task through completion, working on less preferred tasks, maintain a vision of the end product, following through, engaging foreseen effortful work, capacity to not succumb to distractions, developing and using strategies that motivate you to succeed.

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