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Executive Functioning Training

Executive functioning is our brain’s ability to regulate, organize, and direct our thoughts and behaviors. Executive functions are a set of higher-level cognitive skills that allow for breaking down a goal into a step-by-step plan, managing time, controlling focus, and regulating behavior in order to get things done. Achievement in all aspects of life is the result of executive functioning. This is because it bases learning on prior experiences so that the same mistakes are not made repeatedly. Additionally, it allows for task completion because it helps with maintaining focus and considering consequences prior to action. Considering this, executive functioning is a key element for success in school, work, and relationships. When executive functions are maladaptive, working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving become less effective. Without these skills it becomes increasingly more difficult to begin a task, follow through till the end, and make necessary adjustments along the way.

It is important to keep in mind that what may appear as “lazy” or “unmotivated” may be a sheer manifestation of executive dysfunction. These deficits not only impact academic success, but are typically generalized to daily functioning as well. It is common to see executive dysfunction accompanied by depression, anxiety, and a poor sense of self-efficacy. Therefore, improving executive functioning can have a great impact on the modification of maladaptive behaviors and affect. Many times, individuals with executive functioning difficulties become anxious and frustrated, and they may be perceived as lazy, disinterested, and incapable. The longer the deficits are ignored the more likely it is to develop unhealthy habits, such as procrastinating, capitulating, or simply opposing task initiation all together. Early diagnosis and intervention for problems in executive functioning are extremely important.

While there is no set number to determine just how common executive dysfunction is, it is certainly not uncommon. Often, issues pertaining to executive functioning appear in those with diagnoses such as ADHD, dementia, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, mood disorders, and learning disorders. Executive dysfunction does not have a clear-cut diagnosis according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM); rather, executive functioning is often a criterion for multiple disorders. Even so, psychologists are able to administer tests in order to determine executive functioning deficits and, upon doing so, give recommendations for treatment. Observed behaviors are the most important factor in determining executive functioning issues, hence why a distinct diagnosis is not the only means of determining such deficits.

Executive functioning training benefits children and adults that are not performing to their ability because of difficulties with self-management. Core problems include: procrastination, poor time management, struggling to start important tasks, prioritizing fun too much over responsibilities, and “stressing” or shutting down due to school or work. Children end up struggling with teachers and parents, handing homework in late, and losing things. Adults end up mixing up appointment times, arriving late for work, or forgetting to do important tasks, and thus getting in trouble, for example, with bosses and spouses. Whether a psychoeducational evaluation has pinpointed executive dysfunction or not, enlisting the help of a therapist or executive functioning specialist can certainly help those with deficits to build upon their areas of weakness. Once a support team is created between clients, family, and specialists, an appropriate plan of action can be developed and implemented in order to help individuals work towards success.

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