What is Executive Dysfunction and How Do We Manage It?


Executive function can be described as the “management system of the brain” and it allows us to set goals, plan ahead, and get things done. While most executive functioning skills are developed quickly in early childhood through adolescence, many students aren’t fully developed until their mid-20s. Students that struggle with executive function are impacted at home, in school, and throughout life. Unfortunately there is no diagnosis for executive function disorder. Instead, health professionals conduct tests on students to measure their attention span, concept formation, and organizational skills. Since many students with ADHD have significant difficulty with executive functioning, it is is natural to view them as one disorder. However, executive dysfunction can be present without an ADHD diagnosis.


The three main areas of executive function are:

  1. Working Memory: allows students to work with information without losing track of what they're doing

  2. Cognitive Flexibility: finding different approaches to familiar problems

  3. Inhibitory Control: being able to control impulses and regulate self-control


Executive function is vital for students because it allows them to:

  1. Pay attention

  2. Organize, plan, and prioritize assignments

  3. Start tasks and remain focused through completion

  4. Regulate emotions

  5. Understand different points of view

  6. Keep track of what they’re doing (self-regulate)


Signs of Executive Dysfunctioning:

  1. Difficulties starting or completing tasks

  2. Forgetting what was just heard or read

  3. Troubles following directions or a sequence of steps

  4. Distress/anxiety when routine is changed

  5. Time management issues

  6. Problems organizing thoughts and/or belongings


What Can We Do To Help Manage Executive Dysfunctioning?


Our tutors are here to help! Through repetition, strategic planning, and various organizational techniques, our tutors are trained to help manage our students’ executive functioning needs. Reward systems and privileges at home can also provide additional motivation for students. At Academic Tutoring and Testing, we understand the importance of focusing on the positives before the negatives. Our structured and systematic sessions provide continuity for students and help them develop skills that they may not realize they are missing. For students with executive dysfunction, it is important to help them learn skills that will allow them to use the knowledge they already have.

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