Course excerpt from Executive Functioning in Adults
Adults are often relieved when they are told that they have difficulties with “executive functions.” It finally gives name to the frustrations associated with their perceived disorganization. It explains why they might always be late, unprepared, or in a perpetual search for their items such as keys, coat, and more serious things like important paperwork.
Executive functions relate to self-regulating skills that we employ every day in order to accomplish a task (e.g., getting dressed, eating breakfast, loading a backpack, and scheduling social engagements). They help us to plan, organize, make decisions, dynamically shift between situations or thoughts, control our emotions and impulsivity, and learn from past mistakes.
Dawson and Guare (2010) describe executive functioning skills as follows:
“Human beings have a built-in capacity to meet challenges and accomplish goals through the use of high-level cognitive functions called executive skills. These are the skills that help us to decide what activities or tasks we will pay attention to and which ones we will choose to do. Executive skills allow us to organize our behavior over time and override immediate demands in favor of longer-term goals. Through the use of these skills we can plan and organize activities, sustain attention, and persist to complete a task. Executive skills enable us to manage our emotions and our thoughts in order to work more efficiently and effectively. Simply stated, these skills help us to regulate our behavior. “(p.1)
Occasionally in this course, mention will be made of executive functioning deficits in children as well as in adults. The reason for this is that most adults with executive functioning deficits were once children with executive functioning deficits. In order to understand the etiology of these deficits in any individual, it is important to appreciate that:
- The skills needed for adult functioning were not learned in childhood.
- Adults with these deficits have been struggling for a long time.
A corollary of the second point is that many adults with executive functioning deficits may also suffer from other conditions that need therapeutic attention and which go beyond the strategies discussed in this course. Conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD, may be either the cause or the effect of the executive functioning difficulties.
Executive functioning difficulties cause young children and teens to struggle with many academic learning tasks. According to Howland (2010), executive functioning skills tend to predict academic success more effectively than any academic accomplishment or cognitive ability tests. Children with poor executive functioning skills are at high risk for dropping out of school and developing social and behavioral problems (Lindsay & Dockrell, 2012). They often lack listening skills and have difficulties with following directions, which can compromise familial relationships, and impede academic and social engagement. As a continuation of these same dynamics, adults with executive functioning difficulties may have trouble holding down jobs and experience poor relationships with friends, spouses, and children.
Difficulty with executive functioning is not necessarily considered a disability, yet it comprises a weakness in a key set of mental skills that assists with connecting past experiences with present actions. People use executive functions to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to/remembering details, and managing time and space.
We use the executive functions in our brains to:
- Make plans.
- Keep track of time and finish work punctually.
- Multitask and keep track of more than one thing simultaneously.
- Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions.
- Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work.
- Change our minds and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading and writing.
- Ask for help or seek more information when required.
- Engage in group dynamics.
- Wait our turn to speak.
- Apply previously learned information to solve problem.
- Analyze ideas.
Deficits in this area can impact any task, ranging from completing a homework assignment or getting dressed in the morning, to doing the laundry or grocery shopping.
Another way to understand executive functioning difficulties is to observe how the process is supposed to work in an individual with good executive functioning skills. Below is an example, which is segmented into six steps, as derived from Bhandari (2015):
- Consider a task to assess what needs to be done.
- Plan how to accomplish the task.
- Organize the task into a series of steps.
- Estimate the time that will be required to achieve the task, and set aside sufficient time.
- Adjust as required.
- Complete the task within the allotted time.
If one’s executive functions are working well, the brain may go through these steps in a matter of seconds. If one has weak executive skills, however, performing even a simple task can be quite challenging.
To read more about Executive Functioning Skills and to learn strategies and resources that can help, follow the link:
Executive Functioning in Adults is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that provides strategies to help adults overcome executive functioning deficits.
As human beings, we have a built-in capacity to accomplish goals and meet challenges through the use of high-level cognitive functions called “executive functioning” skills. These are the skills that help us to decide which activities and tasks we will pay attention to and which ones we will choose to ignore or postpone.
Executive skills allow us to organize our thinking and behavior over extended periods of time and override immediate demands in favor of longer-term goals. These skills are critical in planning and organizing activities, sustaining attention, and persisting until a task is completed. Individuals who do not have well developed executive functioning skills tend to have difficulty starting and attending to tasks, redirecting themselves when a plan is not working, and exercising emotional control and flexibility. This course offers a wide variety of strategies to help adults overcome such difficulties and function more effectively.
Course #31-08 | 2018 | 61 pages | 20 posttest questions
CE Credit: 3 Hours
Learning Level: Introductory
Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678); and is CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).