Executive Functioning: A Crucial Component in Academic Success

Although the impact of executive functioning deficits on school success is profound, executive functioning deficits are often unrecognized by parents and teachers. Executive functioning is crucial for school success. Executive functioning is the conductor of our behavior. The conductor of an orchestra organizes various instruments to begin playing singularly or in combination, integrates the music by bringing in and fading certain actions, and controls the pace and intensity of the music. Executive functioning, as the conductor of our behavior, prepares the plan (music), directs and regulates behaviors and cognitive activities that will accomplish the plan, regulates self-control, monitors performance, and considers future outcomes.

A wide variety of cognitive skills must be utilized to ensure efficient and successful executive functioning. In a school environment these skills include:

· Working memory and recall – holding facts in mind while manipulating information, accessing facts stored in long-term memory

· Activation, arousal, and effort – getting started, paying attention, finishing work

· Controlling emotions – ability to tolerate frustration, thinking before acting or speaking

· Internalizing language – using “self-talk” to control one’s behavior and direct future actions

· Complex problem solving – taking an issue apart, analyzing the pieces, reconstituting and organizing it into new ideas

Children with attentional and learning problems and children on the Autism Spectrum often exhibit deficits in executive functioning. Therefore, a thorough psychological assessment needs to assess executive functioning. The first step is taking a good history from the parents and reviewing academic records. A variety of standardized questionnaires, completed by the student, teachers, and parents are helpful. Assessment of cognitive and intellectual abilities provides insight into the various aspects of executive functioning such as problem-solving, working memory, and cognitive efficiency. Utilizing several methods to collect data and assess skills enables the evaluator to provide the most useful recommendations to address executive functioning challenges.