What is executive function?16.11.2022
Executive function describes a person’s ability to perform tasks and follow a logical sequence of steps. It includes the ability to plan and follow through on actions independently.
Good performance in basic tasks is a prerequisite to functional everyday life. Challenges with executive functions often come with difficulties in school, work, and other projects.
The capacity for executive functions develops from childhood to adulthood. But for some, the learning process is slower and they require an added level of effort to succeed in everyday tasks.
Background for executive functions
Performing any task requires planning ahead and anticipating actions. Here, working memory and understanding the task steps in detail are crucial. Challenges with executive functions are characterized by a deficiency in these areas. It becomes difficult to perform well and to make necessary error corrections during the process.
The ability to schedule tasks and move from one step to the next will affect how smoothly one performs the actions. Problems with executive functions come with poor timing of work steps, which will seem “clumsy” to others.
A level of emotional control is also essential when performing tasks. How we feel about a task controls our motivation and how well we carry out given actions. Managing our impulses and feelings is also a central part of executive functions.
Executive functions and ADHD
Challenges with executive functions often coincide with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) diagnoses. Characteristics of the syndrome are self-regulation and difficulties in being organized. Many remedial actions for ADHD children focus on supporting executive functions.
However, deficits in executive functions are not a symptom of ADHD, as the challenges occur for many non-ADHD people as well. For instance, people with autism also frequently experience challenges with performing everyday tasks.
People also experience difficulties with executive functions even though no actual neurological deficiency is diagnosed. The challenges are especially usual for children, but many people experience these problems throughout adulthood.
Challenges with executive functions complicate everyday life
Our routines create a framework for progress in school or later in our careers. These areas of life are essential for our well-being and overall life satisfaction.
Challenges in executive functions increase the amount of time and energy we use in daily routines. This compromises the ability to live life seamlessly and conduct everyday tasks successfully. A person without the skills to self-organize is at a heightened risk to fall behind in personal development.
For school-aged children, challenges in executive functions are mainly visible in school success. Independent work becomes difficult, and the child falls behind. Remedial actions in school are necessary for aiding children with these challenges.
For adults, challenges in executive functions cause similar problems as for kids. Organizing university studies or work life is challenging, and the risk of failing in various areas increases. Thus, it is important to recognise issues with executive functions in time and tackle them appropriately.
Finding support for challenges in executive functions
In schools in Finland, supporting executive function is a central part of the pedagogical plan. The remedial actions provided include help from teachers, such as arranging calmer working environments and extra help for the pupils who need it.
Adults can tackle challenges with executive function independently. Action one can take are to minimize the number of stimulations in the environment and to recognize various factors affecting the execution of tasks.
For more severe challenges in self-organizing, one can seek professional help. Here, various support groups can serve as a source of support. It might also be beneficial to consider getting evaluated for ADHD or some related neurological complication, which would allow getting the right medical aid, such as prescribed medication.
Peili Vision is a Startup company from Finland, developing digital tools for rehabilitation and evaluating various medical conditions. The ARVO application helps schools to detect challenges with executive functions in school-aged children.