What is Executive Functioning?1,2,3
Executive functioning describes a set of higher-order mental skills that help you to get things done. The frontal lobe is the area of the brain that controls executive functioning skills.
Deficits in executive functioning skills make it difficult to gather information and structure it for evaluation, as well as difficulty taking stock of your surroundings and changing your behavior in response.
While some adults may have learned tricks or strategies to help them compensate, many continue to fail to meet their daily responsibilities and experience trouble at work and at home. Serious consequences of poor executive functioning skills in adults can be loss of a job for not meeting deadlines, lowered credit rating, or late tax filling penalties because they do not have their finances organized.
Executive functioning skills allow us to:
- Analyze a task
- Plan how to take on the task
- Organize the steps required to carry out the task
- Create timelines for completing the task
- Use flexibility to adjust for changes if needed to complete the task
- Complete a task in a timely fashion and/or meet a deadline
Signs there may be deficits in executive functioning skills:1,2
People with Executive Function Disorder exhibit a wide variety of difficulties with every day tasks. Some common skills affected by EFD include:
- Not being able to manage time well, difficulty meeting deadlines or goals and determining the amount of time that has passed or is necessary to complete a task
- Difficulty organizing and planning
- Trouble paying attention
- Trouble switching focus and shifting between activities
- Not being able to remember details
- Misplacing and losing possessions, paperwork, etc.
- Difficulty delaying response or withholding a response
- Difficulty prioritizing work or responsibilities
- Difficulty self-monitoring behavior, progress, and emotions
Who Is Prone To Executive Functioning Disorder?1,2
Some people are born with weak executive function.
People with ADHD, depression, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or learning disabilities often have executive functioning weaknesses.
Difficulty with executive functioning has also been associated with adult Bipolar Disorder and OCD. Experiencing a brain injury, suffering a stroke, or sustaining damage from Alzheimer’s can also cause a loss of executive functioning.
While depression and anxiety do not have to co-occur with EFD, they are likely to present in conjunction with it. Adults may mistake EFD for laziness or a lack of intelligence, which children pick up on. Furthermore, as academic demands begin to increase and children recognize that for some reason they cannot keep up, this can lead to anxiety and low self-esteem.
For more information on anxiety and EFD, see this article: https://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/managing-feelings/stress-anxiety/are-learning-and-attention-issues-risk-factors-for-anxiety
Are There Available Treatments for Executive Function Disorder?2
Yes! There are a variety of supports available both at school and at home to help manage the symptoms of EFD.
Professionals, including psychologists will likely perform an informal assessment to determine which area of executive functioning requires intervention. Follow up sessions will specifically target skills and strategies to improve day-to-day functioning. These professionals will also collaborate with families and schools to ensure effective generalization of skills.
School based support often involves accommodations. These accommodations may include: extra time for testing and assignments, preferential seating in the classroom, planner checks, provision of skeleton notes and outlines, as well as assistive technology.
It is important to keep in mind that EFD may exist alongside ADHD or other learning disabilities. If you suspect EFD, it is best to seek out a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment to determine an appropriate diagnosis and course of treatment.
There is no medication to eliminate difficulty with executive functioning, though some evidence has been found that stimulant medications may be of benefit for some aspects of executive dysfunction.
A therapist or coach can help you to improve time management, better manage space and keep things from getting lost, and improve work habits. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help a client to self-monitor thoughts and behavior, and social skills training can help to create appropriate responses in social situations.