What are Executive Function Skills?

Executive function skills are central to success in the classroom and beyond. You can think of them as the CEO of your brain. They allow you to do things like organize, focus, and regulate emotions. We begin developing these skills from birth, but they only fully mature in our early 20s. And for many students, especially those with ADHD, executive function skills don’t come naturally. Braintrust is so excited to share our conversation with pediatric neuropsychologist Dr. Matt Pagirsky. Watch the video and keep reading to learn more about what executive function skills are, the way in which they impact learning, and how to support children who struggle with this skill set.

Key Takeaways

  • We use executive function skills to …

    • Sustain attention and filter distractions

    • Identify goals, create plans to achieve them, and monitor our progress

    • Organize information

    • Generate strategies for solving problems

    • Initiate and complete tasks with efficiency

    • Remember and recall information

    • Shift attention and transition from one activity or subject to another

    • Regulate behavior and emotions

  • Executive function skills play an important role in learning. Some examples include …

    • Reading

      • Decode words fluently by remembering sounds long enough to blend them

      • Organize and remember details in order to comprehend sentences and paragraphs

      • Keep track of a storyline

    • Writing

      • Organize our ideas in order to get them down on paper

      • Make a general plan for a piece of writing

      • Remember and apply spelling patterns and grammar rules

      • Edit and revise writing

    • Math

      • Solve multi-step problems

      • See different ways of solving a problem

      • Keep track of important information in a problem

      • Organize work on paper

  • Executive function skills develop over time

    • They begin to develop in infancy

    • They typically mature around the age of 18-20 years old

    • They often take longer to develop in individuals with ADHD

  • There are age-appropriate benchmarks for the development of executive function skills.

    • These include one’s ability to delay gratification, control impulses, pay attention to high and low-interest tasks, follow multi-step directions, and plan ahead.

    • Executive function challenges often become apparent during the transition into middle school and high school. This is because the complexity of assignments and expectations increases; and at the same time, students need to work with greater independence.

  • Students struggling with executive function skills need intervention. This should include:

    • Explicit strategy instruction with frequent modeling

    • Consistent and repeated opportunities for practice

    • Direct instruction in organizational tools and strategies

    • Development of emotional regulation tools and strategies

If your child is struggling with executive function skills, we can help! Many of our Braintrust tutors have extensive experience helping students develop the executive function skills they need for success in school and beyond. And if you are concerned about your child’s development, be sure to reach out to a pediatric neuropsychologist like Dr. Matt Pagirsky for a consultation or evaluation.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get updates to new articles, promotions and more!