Ep. 11: Executive Functioning 101

Jan 5, 2021 | 0 comments

What is executive functioning? Well,that is a big question because executive functioning refers to so much. It is a big term for a lot of little things that impact all aspects of learning. The hardest part about executive functioning is that these skills are expected out of children but are not explicitly taught in school.

In today’s episode on Diverse Thinking Different Learning, we’re starting to scratch the surface of what executive functioning is, what struggles with the different skills look like, how the brain develops executive functioning skills, and what we can do to help strengthen them. I have many examples in this episode and in future episodes, we will dig even deeper into this broad topic of executive functioning.


Show Notes:

[2:24] – Executive functioning is something Dr. Wilson speaks and writes about often.

[2:57] – Karen starts with an example of a task a student might be given by a teacher. The task seems straightforward, but requires quite a lot.

[4:26] – Executive functioning refers to the ability to apply specific abilities to problem solving and ultimately to achieving goals. It is a broad umbrella term.

[4:51] – Those who struggle with executive functioning struggle with different aspects of it. 

[5:01] – An example of an executive function is initiation. This means getting started. Many students struggle with this and need support.

[5:45] – Another executive function is attentional control. This means the ability to concentrate and focus over an extended period of time. The perseverance can be a struggle.

[6:11] – Inhibition is another executive function that Dr. Wilson describes. This means inhibit the other things going on around you, including thoughts, to focus and listen.

[6:59] – Dr. Wilson describes the executive function of being able to shift focus from one thing to another.

[8:01] – Another executive function that Dr. Wilson sees many students struggle with is planning. She details what this could look like.

[8:58] – Organization refers to the ability to bring order to information and make sense of a lot of information.

[9:44] – Planning and organization often go hand in hand. Dr. Wilson uses a writing example to illustrate this.

[10:34] – Working memory refers to the capacity to hold information in your mind and manipulate it to complete a task. Doing math word problems in your head is an example of working memory.

[12:25] – Another primary executive function is flexibility which refers to the ability to switch your attention between two concepts.

[13:31] – An executive function that is often overlooked is self-regulation which is the ability to regulate your behavior, thoughts, and emotion and to appropriately modulate your mood. 

[14:01] – Kids who struggle with self-regulation often have big feelings and reactions to seemingly small things.

[15:14] – Self-awareness is a child’s awareness of their own behavior and how it impacts those around them. This is a higher-level executive function.

[17:12] – A child’s executive functioning can predict long term and short term success and all of these skills combined are necessary to complete many different tasks.

[17:34] – Executive functioning is connected to the front cortex of the brain. Dr. Wilson shares that this is the last part of the brain to develop so overtime, all kids will get better at executive functioning skills.

[18:05] – There are also social experiences that impact the development of executive functioning skills. This means that there are things we can do that help shape these skills.

[20:04] – Many kids with ADHD have difficulties with executive functioning, but Dr. Wilson points out that distance learning has made us all aware that there are many other children who are struggling because of the several skills needed.

[22:08] – One thing that can strengthen executive functioning skills is positive parenting. Karen describes what this looks like.

[22:55] – We also know that sleep is critical for executive functioning. When individuals get adequate sleep, they have better attention and emotional regulation.

[24:07] – Research also shows that participation in sports is good for the development of executive functioning skills.

[25:00] – Martial arts is something else that Dr. Wilson describes as being something that boosts executive functioning.

[26:02] – Cognitive behavioral therapy, educational therapy, and mindfulness are also helpful in addressing weaknesses in executive functioning.

[28:45] – We can also develop strategies to compensate for weaknesses in executive functioning which Dr. Wilson will be talking about in a future episode.


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