Executive Dysfunction

Executive dysfunction a set of symptoms which may associate with a variety of conditions, such as ADHD, learning disorders, and depression. 

Every person depends upon executive functioning skills that make it possible for them to function and thrive in their everyday life. These skills start in childhood and are essential to a child’s learning ability and growth. These are skills that people use every day. 

Children start to develop executive functions as early as age two, and they are generally fully developed in people by their 30s.

Seven Major Types of Executive Functions

There are seven major types of self-regulation that are associated with executive function that your child should start to develop in childhood. 

  • Adaptable thinking gives a child the ability to adjust to situations in the moment and overcome obstacles. This skill helps a child see things from others' perspectives and come up with alternatives when encountering a roadblock.
  • Planning is about a child’s ability to think about the future and create a plan of action to achieve something in the future. Part of planning is figuring out what to prioritize. 
  • Self-monitoring is about a child’s ability to evaluate how well they are doing on a task on their own.
  • Self-control is about a child’s ability to not act out on impulse and control physical and emotional outbursts. Self-control is about a child’s ability to not shut down or have a big outburst when encountering obstacles and criticism. 
  • Working memory relates to a child’s ability to both retain and store information. Working memory is related to one’s short-term memory and execution. It is important for academic and social success.
  • Time management is about a child’s ability to create a schedule, complete things on time, set goals, and see through assignments and tasks without compromising quality.
  • Organization is about a child’s ability to organize both their thoughts and physical materials. 

These skills help one plan and achieve goals. They start to develop in early childhood, and the development of these skills continues into adulthood.

Signs of Executive Dysfunction in Children

Executive dysfunction signs and symptoms can vary significantly from one child to the next. Some common signs of executive dysfunction in children can include the following: 

  • Trouble starting homework and chores independently
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty keeping track of belongings at home and school
  • Trouble listening to and then following directions
  • Moving onto a new task before finishing the original task
  • Difficulty participating in sports teams
  • Issues with transitioning between tasks
  • Inability to remember names 
  • Inability to remember key details
  • Forgetful of important tasks
  • Trouble planning big projects
  • Forgetful of necessary materials for school and activities

These are just some signs of executive dysfunction a child may display. They may also display other symptoms related to the ability to plan, focus, pay attention, and handle multiple tasks at the same time.

Common Causes of Executive Dysfunction

Medical experts are unsure what causes executive dysfunction or why it can manifest in so many different forms. However, they have linked executive dysfunction to several different conditions that impact the way the brain works, including but not limited to:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD)

Executive dysfunction can also occur when brain experiences damage or deterioration due to a condition or circumstance such as: 

  • Brain tumors
  • Epilepsy and seizures
  • Concussions
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Infections 
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Cerebral hypoxia
  • Alzheimer's disease

Treating Executive Dysfunction

The exact treatment plan depends on the way the condition presents itself in a child, as well as that child’s unique health history and circumstances.

ABA Therapy

One way to treat executive dysfunction is through Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). ABA uses different techniques to help improve executive functioning skills in children, depending on the child’s unique needs and goals. 

Individualized treatment plans with ABA therapy focus on teaching and improving essential life skills, such as planning, organizing, working memory, paying attention, initiation, and flexibility. These skills that a child needs to function from day to day can be taught and positively reinforced with ABA therapy.

Language Development

Language development can be used to help children who are experiencing speech and expression difficulties. They can help strengthen areas of weakness associated with executive dysfunction.

Having executive function skills is essential for daily life success. There are many ways that executive dysfunction can be treated.

Managing Executive Dysfunction with Award Behavioral Health

At Award Behavioral Health, we use a variety of treatments, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), DIR/Floortime, language development and expressive therapy options, organizational coaching, animal assisted therapy, counseling and health and wellness coaching to help children learn the executive function skills they need to succeed in life. 

If you think your child has executive dysfunction, please contact Award Behavioral Health for a consultation so we can create a personalized plan to support your child and family. 

For appointments, call us at (800) 249-9569 or contact us online.

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