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  • Writer's pictureAlison McDonald

Executive Functioning

It was 8pm at night. My 14-year-old was relaxing in the lounge room playing her guitar. She looked content and relaxed. I wasn’t. I knew that the next morning she had a major assignment due. One that she had been given several weeks to complete, and one that had multiple parts to it – research, collating data and writing the final report. I tactfully enquired as to how it was going. She very calmly stated that it was all fine, she simply had to finish the research, sort the data and write a summary. The stress was rising in my throat and I could feel and hear my voice getting thin and strained. “How long do you think that will take?” I enquired. “Oh, about half an hour” she replied cooly.

I was gripped with a sudden panic. Her whole 3-week long assignment to be put together and finished in half an hour? Surely she had lost her sense of reality! What was she thinking? I looked at her, ready to explode—when I realised that she wasn’t being intentionally difficult or unconcerned about her school work. In her mind, she was in perfect control and fully intended to produce her best work. In that moment, it hit me; my daughter truly has Executive Function ‘dysfunction’.

All those years when I brushed off her trouble organising her belongings, her inability to see the ‘big picture’ and plan her time or tasks to make it happen, her missed social appointments or frustrations when she couldn’t meet me at the time and place we had agreed upon—she was really struggling with the day-to-day reality of challenges with her Executive Function. Why hadn’t I noticed and done something more to support her?

In simple terms, executive functioning is the brain’s ability to take in information, interpret, and make decisions based on that information. It involves prioritising, attention, planning, organising, regulating emotions and behaviours, working memory, making predictions, initiating tasks, motivation and time management. Our executive functioning skills are vitally important for helping us learn and manage our time, emotions and life-skills. Issues with executive functioning are more prevalent than you might think. You or your child may struggle with one or multiple areas of planning, organising, motivation or self-regulation. The great news is that there are some specific things we can do to support ourselves and others. Now is a great time to be thinking about the strategies that will help our families function more smoothly and support our children’s learning. Newcastle Speech Pathology can assist in developing a plan of support that will assist your child both at home and school to manage their executive functioning.

Written by Alison Speech Pathologist Newcastle Speech Pathology

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