Executive functioning challenges can deeply impact those with ADHD, affecting everything from time management to emotional control. In the blog, “Boosting Executive Functioning: Effective Interventions and Support for ADHD with an Executive Function Coach,” we examine the landscape of these cognitive skills and their significance across all age groups, including preschool-aged children. The blog offers an in-depth look into diagnostic methods, common signs of weak executive functioning, and a wide array of interventions and support options, from self-help tips to professional coaching. This resource aims to provide a comprehensive understanding and practical solutions for individuals, parents, and professionals dealing with executive functioning challenges in the context of ADHD.

Executive functions refer to a set of skills that helps people set and achieve goals. These skills are commonly delayed in those who have ADHD or ADD. Improving these executive functions can help people improve their self-confidence as they begin to see the power in them to gain the momentum needed to consistently work towards and achieve their goals.

Various support systems can be implemented to help people of all ages build executive function skills, depending on the person’s age, goals, and willingness to improve.

Depending on the needs and role of the individual seeking help, many frequently asked questions arise when beginning the search for ways to improve executive functions. In this blog post, we will explore each of those questions, offering a few of the most common strategies and interventions to support people of all ages seeking to improve executive functions. As always, the path to improvement varies from person to person, which is why here at EEC, we take an individualized, strengths-based approach with each of our clients, supporting each person differently.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about improving executive functions with a coach.

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Are Executive Functioning Skills Useful for All Ages?

Yes!

Executive functioning skills are not limited to adults. Similar to any other skill, they develop slowly throughout life and development. Research indicates that executive functions are often 30% delayed in those with ADHD, making things that may seem simple for other people, feel very taxing or challenging.

Children need executive function skills to manage impulses, establish and maintain friendships, and complete daily responsibilities. School-age kids require these skills to navigate due dates, complete work on time, prioritize tasks, and problem-solve through various situations. Adults require EF skills daily to maintain order in a home, keep to a schedule, and achieve goals. Whether it’s managing responsibilities at work, maintaining healthy habits, or nurturing relationships, strong executive function skills are invaluable in navigating the complexities of daily life. Therefore, it’s never too early or too late to invest in developing and refining these skills.

Can You Give An Example of Executive Function Skills in a Preschool-Age Child?

A preschool-aged child with well-developed executive function skills may demonstrate the ability to follow multi-step directions, engage in imaginative play with organized themes, exhibit emotional regulation during transitions, and demonstrate problem-solving abilities when faced with challenges. A child who struggles with those skills might be in trouble for failing to regulate their emotional impulses, not being on task due to the inability to remember multi-step directions, or could simply feel stressed and anxious about trying to keep up with peers who more easily navigate their EF skills.

What to Do If Your Child Is Struggling with Executive Dysfunction?

If your child is struggling with executive dysfunction, the most impactful thing a parent can do is to understand that the struggles aren’t due to a lack of effort, but often a lack of understanding and lack of tools. In our work with younger children, we help them break out of unhelpful messages telling them that they can’t do things, or are bad at certain things, instead helping them to see their strengths and how to improve executive function skills.

Coaching to address executive dysfunction in a word cloud on a blackboard

This process isn’t easy, but the impact it has on a child struggling with executive function problems can be life-changing. One parent, after seeing the progress her son made through executive function coaching said “You’ve helped [our son] more than any therapist, or even I, could. I know you’re not here for therapy, but you’ve helped him so much with his mental health by guiding him and teaching him how to work with his ADHD. Also, you’ve kept him going when he didn’t know how to keep himself going.”

Getting the support of an EF coach can help parents and students alike. Just as in the example above, having a coach enter the picture can alleviate the pressure of feeling the need to remind, coax, and motivate your child on your own.

How to Diagnose Executive Function Challenges?

Diagnosing executive function difficulties involves a comprehensive assessment process. Professionals, such as psychologists, neuropsychologists, or pediatricians, may use standardized tests, observations, interviews, and questionnaires to evaluate a child’s executive functioning skills. Proper diagnosis is crucial in tailoring interventions and support strategies to meet the specific needs of the person.

What Are the Most Common Signs of Weak Executive Function Skills

Recognizing the signs of weak executive function skills is essential for anyone who wants to improve those skills and change the trajectory of their life. The following are some of the most common signs of weak executive function skills;

Weakness in Planning and Prioritizing

Weakness in planning and prioritizing is a common struggle for individuals with executive function challenges. This is often demonstrated by doing things at the last minute, taking action in a scattered fashion, or relying on reminders from others to get things done.

Time Management Difficulties

Time management difficulties often go hand in hand with executive function challenges. The awareness of how much time has passed, and how much time it takes to do things doesn’t come easily for those with EF challenges.

Working Memory Problems

Working memory problems can significantly impact a person’s ability to retain and manipulate information. This can show up in the inability to follow through with multi-step directions, difficulty remembering information long enough to act on it (remembering to do the thing they promised they would do after walking out of your presence), etc.

Poor Emotional Control and Impulsivity

Poor emotional control and impulsivity are commonly associated with weak EF skills.

Poor Organizational Skills

Poor organizational skills can hinder individuals’ ability to stay focused, meet deadlines, and complete tasks efficiently. Being able to develop and maintain systems can be very challenging for those with EF challenges.

Trouble With Flexible Thinking

Flexible thinking is an essential executive function skill that allows individuals to adapt to new situations, consider multiple perspectives, and problem-solve effectively. When flexibility is a challenge, a person might project anger when faced with unexpected information, a change of events, or the inability to follow through with how things were organized in their head.

How to Treat Executive Dysfunction?

Various approaches are available to help improve executive dysfunction challenges. Some of those are; behavior therapy, executive function coaching, and medication, depending on the individual needs and preferences of the person. Collaborating with professionals and creating a tailored treatment plan can significantly improve a child’s executive functioning skills and overall quality of life.

How Do We Learn Executive Functioning Skills?

Executive functioning skills can be developed and enhanced in various ways. We find it most effective to first learn about executive functions, identify EF strengths, then practice those skills in real-life situations until they become second nature.

What are The Top Tips to Help People Manage Executive Functions?

Wooden blocks to illustrate executive functions like achievement and effort.

Managing executive function challenges can be overwhelming, but there are practical tips that can make a significant difference. As EF coaches, we commonly use the following strategies, and others to help clients manage executive function difficulties successfully;

Use a Planner or Google Calendar to Manage Time Effectively

One practical strategy to improve executive functioning skills, particularly time management, is utilizing planning tools like Google Calendar or Planners.

These planning tools help lighten the strain on EF skills, allowing a person to see their day visually, and plan accordingly. Once a person is able to use planning tools effectively, they find it much easier to create and stick to a plan, helping them more confidently achieve their goals.

Set Time Limits

Time blindness is a common aspect of ADHD and executive dysfunction. Setting time limits helps people avoid distractions and stick to tasks through to completion.

Breaking down activities into manageable chunks and allocating specific time frames for completion can help students stay on track and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Time limits provide structure, promote task initiation, and encourage students to develop a sense of responsibility and accountability.

Self-Monitoring and Metacognition

Self-monitoring and metacognition are critical aspects of executive functioning. Teaching children and adults to reflect on their own thinking processes, monitor their actions, and evaluate their progress fosters self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-regulation.

By guiding our clients to become more mindful of their behaviors and choices, we empower them to take control of their executive functioning skills and make positive changes.

Track Your Progress and Celebrate the Wins (No Matter How Small!)

Tracking progress and celebrating achievements is an essential part of the executive functioning journey. Encouraging people to set goals, monitor their progress, and acknowledge their successes, no matter how small, fosters motivation, resilience, and self-esteem. By recognizing and celebrating incremental improvements, students are inspired to continue developing their executive functioning skills with enthusiasm and determination.

Learn How to Manage Time

Time management doesn’t come naturally for those with executive dysfunction, but is crucial for daily activities.

Planning tools like those mentioned previously can help manage time by making the day more visible and tasks more tangible. Other ways to learn to manage time include prioritizing tasks, breaking down projects into manageable steps, avoiding procrastination, and allocating specific time slots for different activities. Each of these is learned through experience, by relying on individual strengths.

Response Inhibition and Impulse Control

Learning to not respond to impulses is a challenging task. Whether it’s developing a system to keep track of thoughts in the moment rather than act on them immediately, or understanding social norms enough to know what is appropriate to say, and when to say it, it’s an important skill to learn.

Implementing strategies such as social stories, reflection or metacognition, and mindfulness exercises can help anyone develop better self-control, make thoughtful decisions, and manage impulsive tendencies effectively.

Use Apps to Help You Stick With Healthy or Productive Habits

While technology can be incredibly distracting, when they are used as tools, they can help create more consistency without as much effort.

In the digital age, various apps are available to support individuals in managing executive function difficulties. These apps can assist with organizing schedules, setting reminders, creating habit trackers, and providing visual cues. By utilizing technology to reinforce healthy or productive habits, individuals can enhance their executive functioning skills and optimize their daily routines.

Utilize a Positive Behavior Support System (PBIS)

A positive behavior support system (PBIS) can be an effective approach to addressing executive function challenges in educational settings. PBIS emphasizes proactive strategies, clear expectations, and consistent reinforcement to promote positive behaviors and create an environment that supports executive functioning. Collaborating with teachers, administrators, and school staff can help tailor interventions and create a supportive learning environment.

Are There Alternative Treatments for Executive Function Disorder?

In addition to traditional approaches, alternative treatments are also available, but may be less grounded in research and may not be covered by insurance. These may include neurofeedback, mindfulness-based interventions, nutritional modifications, and physical exercise. It’s important to consult with healthcare professionals or specialists to determine the appropriateness and potential benefits of these alternative treatments for each individual’s unique needs.

Executive Functioning Assessment from Effective Effort Consulting

Is There Professional Help for Executive Functioning?

Yes!

Seeking professional help, such as working with an ADHD executive function coach or therapist, can be immensely beneficial to help improve executive functions. These professionals can provide guidance, support, and specialized strategies to address specific areas of difficulty. Collaborating with a professional allows individuals to receive personalized interventions and learn effective tools to navigate executive function challenges successfully.

Here at EEC, we believe in creating a client-centered, team approach to improving EF skills. Often our coaches collaborate with therapists, teachers, schools, loved ones, or anyone else supporting our clients. This collaborative approach helps connect the different aspects of a person’s life.

By utilizing effective strategies, providing tailored support, and seeking professional help when needed, individuals can develop and strengthen their executive function skills, improving their overall functioning and quality of life. With patience, understanding, and consistent implementation of appropriate interventions, individuals of all ages with executive function challenges can overcome obstacles and thrive in their personal and academic endeavors.