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Executive Functioning

Executive Functioning. Ahem. *insert professor voice here*

Executive functioning involves the components of inhibiting actions, restraining and delaying responses, attending selectively, selecting goals, planning, organizing, as well as maintaining and shifting set. Deficits in executive functioning have been associated with the impairments in students with Attention Deficit Disorder.


Sadly, that phrase came straight from one of my own psychoeducational assessment reports. Clear as mud, right? Let’s just say that “Executive Functioning” is a phrase that would be a good one to include in "Educational Jargon Bingo". It is a term that is extensively in the neuropsychology research and is trickling down to use in the schools, as it becomes inextricable from the symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Disorder and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities.*

So what is “Executive Functioning” ?

A good reference I found to explain Executive Functioning comes from Philip David Zelazo, Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. He has a good three-part series on " Executive Functioning." Have a look.

The way I explain it is through metaphor (I’m big on metaphors, in case you hadn’t noticed). The one I’ve heard that I like is the “CEO in your head.”

Imagine there is a “Li’l Chief Executive Officer” in your head. Basically, your boss is hanging out in your pre-frontal cortex. (Scary thought, I know). But pretend s/he is sort of an authoritarian type boss. S/he tells you what to do, when to do it, when to change your focus, what not to do, to foresee how you will tackle a long-term project at work, and regulate how you feel about all that.

Meanwhile, s/he also controls aspects of your personal life. (Sheesh, s/he is bossy!) So s/he is also telling you that you can’t hang out with your co-worker during lunch because you have to finish a project, you can’t listen to music during work because it distracts you, and you will have to put off all fun tasks until you finish a dull task. She also stops you from telling her what your really think about her in no uncertain words.

In essence, s/he is telling you how to plan, organize, put off (inhibit), and execute tasks. S/he is Executive Functioning.

*I have 1892748927589347 ideas for posts about ADHD and Nonverbal Learning Disorders. I am open to suggestions to tailor it to my audience (I’m referring to the ones of tens of you who have found my blog thus far! Speak up!)

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