The beginning and end of the school year is always very busy for me because of IEP meetings but at a couple meetings at the end of the school year the term Executive Function was mentioned. I will be honest and the first time I heard it mentioned by a school psychologist I had never heard of it but of course wrote myself a note to learn about it. I did a little research on it but not enough to say it made any impact on me so when I saw this session was recorded I made sure to make time for it.
This was an hour and half session that took me over 3 hours to watch because I had to keep pausing it. Every so often Dr. Petrich would say something about executive function that hit home so hard it was like a punch to my stomach so I would hit pause and cry for a few minutes. This continued a couple more times until it was finally over and then I immediately went and ordered the two books that Dr. Petrich recommended. I was like a kid at Christmas when they arrived.
I was so taken back by this topic because a lot of what she was saying was describing my own daughter.
So now you may be asking, "what is Executive Function?"
Executive skills allow us to organize our behavior over time and override immediate demands in favor of longer-term goals. Through the use of these skills we can plan and organize activities, sustain attention, and persist to complete a task. Executive skills enable us to manage our emotions and monitor our thoughts in order to work more efficiently and effectively.
That is taken from one of the books I mentioned above. Page 1, Chapter 1 from Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention, written by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. Executive Skills include:
- Time Management
- Working Memory
- Response Inhibition
- Emotional Control
- Sustained Attention
- Task Initiation
- Goal Directed Persistence
As I was learning about what each of these cognitive skills do I started to realize that these explain a lot of what was going on with my daughter, and not just in school, these effect a lot of areas of her life and it breaks my heart to know that she has been struggling with this for years and no one knew what this was.
I know my daughter dealt with a very low working memory score when she was tested back when she was in 2nd grade. At the time her working memory score was removed from her over all IQ score because it was so low and it brought her overall IQ down quite a bit. I was told that her working memory score wouldn't mean that much, that she would just have trouble remembering multi-step directions, not a big deal. Sadly, that is not the case, working memory IS a big deal.
So why is working memory such a big deal? Here is a short list of activities that are influenced by working memory capacity (copied from Essentials of Working Memory Assessment and Intervention by Milton Dehn):
- Keeping up with the flow of a conversation and remembering what one was going to say.
- Noticing errors that are contained in a written sentence one just produced.
- Keeping track of one's place while counting.
- Being able to take detailed notes while listening at the same time.
- Remembering multistep directions that were just presented or read.
- Completing a task in a time-efficient manner.
- Coping with distractions while thinking.
- Comprehending what is being said or read.
- Remembering what one was going to do next.
- Keeping track of subproducts while doing mental arithmetic.
- Being able to switch between mental tasks.
- Being able to reason, such as comparing and contrasting two concepts.
- Integrating visual and auditory information.
- Efficiently memorizing information.
- Consciously retrieving a name or word that does not come immediately.
Problems include forgetfulness, inattentiveness, difficulty following directions, difficulty completing tasks, difficulty communicating, and various types of learning disorders.
What I didn't know was that other areas that she was struggling with along with the working memory, planning, organization, time management, emotional control, all had a name, Executive Function.
I am still learning a lot about this, still reading many articles written about it, but I wanted to let you all know about a webinar with Dr. Petrich in a few weeks. Here is the link to register. It is on September 27th starting at 7 CST. Consider watching.