Executive Functions – Part 4

Rachel’s Resources
“Executive Functions and Speech-Language Therapy” - Part 4


By Rachel Betzen, M.A., CCC/SLP

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As children progress to higher elementary grades and middle school, in addition to the expectation of reading to learn our students are required to manipulate information and give written responses.  Our junior high and high school students are expected to independently plan and write essays that clearly explain concepts with good written composition.

We want our students to have the skills needed to plan ahead for projects, and hold the important information in mind while further organizing new and previously learned information.  When addressing task initiation and building working memory, we still need to assess the foundation of skills our students need, and help them organize their learning in a way that makes sense to their learning modality.

The next two executive function areas are important skills to help children and adults meet their full potential. These skills help us begin difficult and complex tasks, and integrate new information while holding in memory other relevant details.

The Executive Functions

  1. Response Inhibition
  2. Organization
  3. Task Initiation
  4. Working Memory
  5. Emotional Control
  6. Flexibility
  7. Sustained Attention
  8. Time Management
  9. Planning/Prioritization
  10. Goal-Directed Persistence
  11. Metacognition

Task initiation:  The ability to begin a task without excessive procrastination and the ability to plan smaller steps needed for task completion. This skill area can be influenced by many factors, such as personality, learning challenges, high distractibility (including ADHD), social skill weaknesses (with group projects), emotional overwhelm, or experiences of failure.

The Executive Skills workbook describes two kinds of task initiation: beginning a task right away when it is requested, and planning when to complete longer term projects. Environmental modifications in the child’s homework area include the child making visual reminders and marking a calendar with steps for task completion. The child may need many reminders at first which can be faded over time, and lots of reinforcement as the child is following through with their plans. These same strategies can be applied to adults.

Working Memory: The ability to hold information in mind while performing complex tasks. This incorporates the ability to past learning or prior knowledge that applies to the current project.

This skill area will be affected for our students that have language processing delays, and some of our students that have language disorders. When children are not able to hold all of the details in mind and create accurate visual imagery, this will show up with their working memory. Improving overall language skills often boosts this area, however for our older students they may need more direct intervention.

Modifications include storage devices like calendars and notebooks, or use of calendars on smart phones or electronic devices. Auditory cues and reminders will probably still be needed as our students develop this skill.