Executive Function is broken down into two categories; organization and regulation. Organization is the ability to gather information and structure it. Regulation is the abilitly to take stock of one's surrounding and adjust or change one's behavior in response to those surroundings. This is where chocolate cake comes in. Yes, chocolate cake. Hypothetically speaking, let's say you are at a restaurant and a piece of chocolate cake is sitting on the table next you. That cake is very tempting and you would like to order a piece for yourself. The organizational part of your executive function reminds you that chocolate cake has ludicrous amounts of calories in it. The regulation part tells you that if you eat that cake you may regret it because it conflicts with your goals to eat less sugar or lose weight.
There are three types of brain function that work together to create successful executive functioning skills. Keep in mind, children are not born with these skills. They are born with the ability and potential to develop them! Again from Harvard University's The Center on the Developing Child:
Chronic exposure to stress, especially toxic stress (neglect, abuse, violence, etc), can cause anxiety and depression that decrease the size of one's frontal lobe resulting in weakened executive functioning skills. ADHD and learning disabilities can also strongly contribute to ones ability, or weakened ability, to use organization and regulation skills. Triggers that cause anger, temper tantrums, and irrational behavior are the result of "frontal lobe shut down," in which a person temporarily loses their ability to reason and work through triggering or stressful situations. Let's take a look at toddler behavior for example. Toddlers are infamous for throwing nuclear reactive meltdown temper tantrums because mom didn't give them the green cup five minutes ago before said toddler even asked for it. Seeing as the brain is not fully developed until nearly the age of 30 it is quite reasonable that a toddler's frontal lobe is still small and undeveloped and thus their ability to reason is as great as a sloth's ability to run in the Olympics.
Children (and adults) with varying disabilities, delays, traumatic experiences, and many other reasons, often need far more detailed instruction and step by step teaching to learn executive functioning skills. Some need to be shown, repeatedly and over time, how to manage skills that many people take for granted; from brushing ones teeth, to packing a lunch, to participating in a group project, to using an ATM, balancing a checkbook, navigating social expectations and reactions to those expectations and everything in between.
It can feel a bit like this...
Executive Functioning Does What?
Have you ever wondered why some people are able to save their money and always seem to have enough while others are burning holes through their pockets and can't pay a bill on time? How is it that Uncle Bob is chronically late to every single get together but Uncle Sam is always fifteen minutes early?
The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University defines Executive functioning as,
Executive functions are controlled by the frontal lobe of the brain.
"Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.
When children have opportunities to develop executive function and self-regulation skills, individuals and society experience lifelong benefits. These skills are crucial for learning and development. They also enable positive behavior and allow us to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families."
The Samara Learning Center offers children the time, resources, instruction, and environment to not only receive academic instruction but also learn how to organize, regulate, and process the world around them in a traumatic free environment (in other words: NO bullying, yelling, criticizing, shaming, isolating, to name a few). Academic instruction is permitted to take pause while naturally occurring moments are used to instruct students on problem solving, social interactions, social cues, self regulation, communicating with words, and finding ways to persevere through tough situations. Students receive step by step instruction when needed, reducing immense frustration. Instead of "go do your math," students can learn all the steps from finding a pencil to completing problems with patience and understanding. These moments build neurological pathways in the brain that increase Executive Functioning skills for those who may lack in such an area. As students learn these skills repeatedly they become integrated into their neural network until student's weaknesses become well managed and often turn into their strengths. As always, Samara Learning Center's goal is to teach their students to 'soar with their strengths and manage their weaknesses' to ensure confidence, skills, self-esteem, and academic and social successes in the lives of children and youth.
Working memory governs our ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short periods of time.
Mental flexibility helps us to sustain or shift attention in response to different demands or to apply different rules in different settings.
Self-control enables us to set priorities and resist impulsive actions or responses.
And very often like this....