Executive functioning is a set of cognitive skills that includes planning, problem-solving, memory, organization, impulse control, and much more. To keep it simple, executive functioning are skills that are used to complete a task. These skills are required for everyday tasks from getting ready to start the day to learning at school. Children need executive skills to formulate a plan to initiate a task.
For example, if a child is being asked a simple task such as getting dressed. The child may need to go into their room, look into their closet, decide what clothes to wear, take it out of the drawer or off the hanger, put the hanger back into the closet, take off their pyjamas, put on their shirt, pants, socks, put their clothes on, take their old clothes and put it in the designated spot. To carry out this simple task, this child has to resist the impulse to play with the toys in their room in front of them, or looking at other things in their rooms. If they can’t find their favourite clothes in the closet, they might go looking somewhere else for it. If they are looking in the closet, there might be so many options and choose specifically on the material of the clothes. As well, this could be very overwhelming. The child may then have to make sure they are wearing their clothes the right way, not inside out.
A child needs executive skills in order to function with a reasonable degree of independence. However, that does not mean they can’t ask for help or seek advice at times from adults. We hope for them to no longer rely on adults to plan or organize their day for them. In order to reach this stage, the child needs executive skills.
What are signs your child could benefit from an occupational therapist?
- Difficulty with initiating a task (e.g., starting their homework, getting dressed)
- Easily overwhelmed by a large task
- Has difficulty with stopping certain behaviors (e.g., speaking out in class)
- Starts assignments at the very last minute
- Trouble with remembering things
In a nutshell
Here are a few ways an occupational therapist can help:
- Identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses
- Work on building their executive functioning skills
- Collaborate to problem solve on challenging tasks
- Providing accommodations at home and/or at school