Executive functions are part of the brains 'engine' that help us understand, organise and process information. They have an affect on essentially everything we do.
Executive Functions include the following:
- Organising, prioritising, starting tasks
- Focusing on things, and being able to move from one task to another
- Regulating ourselves, staying on task, staying alert
- Managing our emotions
- Using our short term memory to hold bits of information, then recall that information
- Controlling our impulses
To understand how these things can have an impact on everyday life, meet Sam. Sam is seven years old and has problems with his executive functioning. Here is an outline of his day:
Sam leaves for school on his scooter, accompanied by his mum and younger sister. Argh! fifteen minutes down the road, at the school gates, he realises he has forgotten his game for show and tell. He had spent all evening the night before painting, cutting, designing, gluing together all the pieces of the game. It was made from a shoebox, a tiny football stadium with football players made out of straws; you blow through the straw, and the little ball moves around the little pitch! All his friends were going to love that game, it might even make him popular. And now he had forgotten it at home. They were never allowed to bring in their own games. This opportunity would probably never come again. His friends would never get to see the awesome game. Aaaaaaarrrrghhh!!!! I have to go home and get it! I need it!! I NEED IT NOW!! In his eagerness, Sam runs towards the road before being stopped by mum. A crowd has gathered.
Organising, Managing Emotions, Controlling Impulses.
Sam's teacher asks him for the answer to one of the questions she has just read out. It had taken Sam a full hour to calm down from the morning and had not been paying attention to the teacher since he had sat down in class. There is a book open in front of him, there are words written down on the board, and an adult hired by the school to sit with him. The adults job is to mainly point at things and be frustrated because of other adults at the school. Sam cannot answer the question. It makes him sad.
Working Memory, Managing Emotions.
It is lunch time. Sam is sitting with the other kids in his class and they are talking about the new equipment in the playground and last weeks X factor. Sam joins the conversation, talking about football and naming every player he likes and their club history. He does not notice that the other kids have stopped talking. In their politeness, they let him speak.
Focusing, regulation, impulses.
Sam has been engrossed in his collage of 'Why I love Britain' as part of the citizenship for seven year olds curriculum. There is a picture of Jose Mourinho, a computer, and a christmas tree as these are Sam's favourite things about Britain. Because the Christmas tree is there, it only makes sense to now print and cut out all of the things he wants for Christmas - an iPad, lights for his shoes, the game where you splat your face with cream, and a Lego set so far. He is cutting out a picture of an Avengers Hero kit when his teacher tells him that he needs to keep in theme with the task - things about Britain. But he hasn't finished! After the Avengers Hero Kit, there were several other things. He needs to complete the list, one simply cannot have an incomplete list.
Shifting from one task to another.
It's tea time. Sam is having a cheese croissant and a glass of milk, his favourite. He finishes up and mum tells him to put everything away. He picks up his plate and glass, and goes to put them in the kitchen sink - but on the way he realises he has forgotten the knife and fork. He puts down the plate and glass on the coffee table and goes to get the knife and fork. He picks up the knife and fork, but under the table there is a small football straw from his game.. ahhhh my lovely game! Leaving the knife and fork on the floor, he hurries upstairs to be reunited with the game.
Staying on task, Focusing.