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Executive function: A new lens for viewing your child

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By Kristin Stanberry

Are there tests that measure a child's strength and weakness in executive function?

There is some debate about this, but Dr. Brown states: "A person's ability to perform the complex, self-managed tasks of everyday life provides a much better measure of his or her executive functioning than can neuropsychological tests."

There is also a debate about whether or not an individual's executive function profile can be used, in and of itself, to help identify LD or diagnose AD/HD. It is not standard practice at this time.

How can you use the executive function framework to understand your child's strengths and struggles?

As a parent, you may find the framework of executive function helpful for identifying not only your child's area(s) of difficulty but also her strengths and talents. By organizing and teasing apart that information, her unique "executive function profile" may emerge. This will help you determine where she needs extra help, and where her strengths might help compensate for her areas of struggle.

This perspective may also help you communicate your concerns and observations to teachers and other professionals. This may, in turn, help educators determine what accommodations or interventions might target her areas of difficulty, perhaps by playing to some of her strengths. (Note: Many teachers are not familiar with the concept of executive function. However, your school psychologists may be familiar with the theory because neuropsychological testing is used to assess executive function.)

Whether or not your child meets the criteria for LD or AD/HD, understanding her executive function profile — where she struggles, where she succeeds, and how those abilities interact — may be a powerful tool for understanding who she is, and how she learns and functions best. Depending on the age of your child, it may also provide a lens through which she can view herself — a view that will change and develop as she matures.

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.


Comments from readers

" "los angeles therapist", "los angeles psychiatrist", "ADD doctor", "ADHD doctor", "depression doctor", "best psychiatrist los angeles", "best depression doctorLos Angeles". Sometimes community centers will have shrinks you can talk to. I think they charge on sliding scale. The only problem is they are shrinks-in-training so they eventually leave. Some people don't have a problem with that though. "
"Thanks for breaking Exec. Function into smaller parts with real examples. I'll be able to look for more specific answers now. (And I don't think using she in examples is a political agenda. What was that about, anyway?) Our struggle for years with Asperger's and Exec. Function is always the same for every subject and every report card since 4th grade (now 10th). Age and maturity are clearly important and I wish we could find a way to hold back our son, but content is never the problem. He knows the material. But execution, time management and (now I've learned a new word) activation are always keeping him from success. "
"Thank you so much for this article. It is a succinct and clear way to explain this issue. I will be forwarding it to some family members and teachers so they can better understand my daughter! This will also help me to tack down her strengths and weaknesses in the area of executive functioning."
"my daughter (now 15) has struggled all through school, bothe academically and socially. To the point that we have put her into a private school. She suffers greatly from exuctive dysfuction in all facets of her day. 'Understanding' this is not eneough..what can be done to actually help 'her' with her daily homework schedule. She often sits for hours each night with very minial amount completed, even with guidelines and notes. Are there any programs or government help out there?"
"Hi, I think i have hit home run stretc! As an adult ADD and a parent of a an autistic and a seemingly genius sibling. The truth is ADD is purpose viewd through discrepancies hence the short attention spans-on reading your article i can see lighht at the end John, Kenya"
"i think my child has this. thanks much."
"Great article. Thank you."
"My teenage daughter has been indentified as having an Executive Functions disability. I am looking for concrete tools to help her. Any ideas?"
"I have a 16 yo son who has this issue but can't get school to realize signifigance. He is now a sophomore drop-out/runaway. This is the same child with straight As in Middle School and took S.A.T. for John Hopkins Talented Youth as a 7th grader. But because no help was received, he gave up. A gifted child with great potential who also had an LD that no one (but me) would pay attention to... I have a simple explanation of this disorder: 'This a is large symphony with plenty of instruments and talented players who are missing their conductor and therefore are unable to perform together.' Or: 'the information in the brain is like a jigsaw puzzle that can't be completed as there is no picture to follow.' "
" The last paragraph of this article mentions a very important area, age. Different cognitive functions happen at various age grouping. Although executive function play a part of learning they play a larger role in who we are. The brain has the ability to re-direct information to centers that are not functioning to those that are able to 'pick up the slack.' That again, are stages of brain development that coincides with age. In my opinion the best way to 'see' where the LD within the brain is to use Functional MRI. That is the future of education of children with disabilities. "
"Want some additional information, answers to questions, or support? Please consider joining and posting them at the 'Learning and Attention Difficulties' group found here at GS to receive to receive practical suggestions from parents who have faced similar challenges:"
"A good book on executive functions is called No Mind Left Behind which is geared for parents and teachers. The author has a web site that has a test you can use. It is at"
"Regarding the individual that is requesting more information on testing of Executive Function: might I suggest visiting the website and look for the BRIEF. This is the only informant based test of Executive Functioning that I know of. I highly recommend it. Sincerely, Christine Fontenot, MS"
"Great article - I love the examples you give about how aspects of EF can affect various tasks such as projects, reading, social. I think it would be helpful for parents to have a list of tests that measure aspects of EF. BRIEF, Wisconsin Trailmaking, D-KEFS, NEPSY. Often times parents ask that schools consider EF issues during evaluations. Without the data, schools may be reluctant to include EF goals and related instruction to teach stategies and build Executive functioning skill,"
"Thank you for the list. I am writing reports now for school and you saved me a lot of work. I also want to ad my 2 cents; It is silly to say 'she' all the time. Just say 'he' and you'll be right more often when you are talking about Exec func. I do not agree that this is a proper venue for pushing some other political agenda. And it belittles your credibility! -Mayer"
"I would like to have some more information on testing of Executive Function. Where can I find an example of a test."
"I thought this explanation of executive funciton was very well organized. What about the inablity to complete tasks? Is that due to effort or inability to manage time? The article did state that people with this challenge do not manage time on projects well, but does that mean they are challenged with finishing tasks? If so, why? Why can a person activate and initiate projects, but not complete them? What about nonverbal learning disability (NVLD) . It is rare to find information regarding that learning disability. My daughter who is deaf was diagnosed with both ADHD and NVLD."