Enhancing Executive Functioning Skills in Children with Learning Disabilities

12 Executive Functioning Skills for Kids With Learning Disabilities

Executive functioning skills — including planning, organizing, and working through challenges — help kids and teens learn. But they’re often impacted by conditions like ADHD and can be difficult for learners with learning disabilities.

New research, such as Carol Dweck’s growth mindset and Angela Duckworth’s grit, suggests that these skills can be taught.

1. Focus

Focus is the ability to start a task and then stay motivated, engaged and committed until it is finished. This skill helps reduce distractions and supports self-regulation and emotional control.

To support learners in building this skill, teachers and parents can help by providing scaffolding for assignments. This can include setting clear expectations, using a planner and eliminating distractions such as sticky notes or toys.

2. Prioritizing

The ability to recognize and arrange tasks according to their relative importance is called prioritizing. This skill is essential for juggling multiple assignments, especially when deadlines loom.

To develop this skill, try using the Eisenhower Matrix, a simple strategy for organizing tasks based on their urgency and importance. Remember to reevaluate priorities regularly as circumstances change. This will help you avoid the sunk cost fallacy.

3. Decision-Making

Decision-making is the ability to select a course of action from alternatives that will achieve a desired outcome. It requires analytical skills to look at all possible options and logical thinking to make an informed choice.

Decision-making is often aided by teamwork and collaboration. This can expose you to new perspectives and methods of thinking that can help you solve problems more efficiently.

4. Flexibility

Bouncing back from disappointment, going with the flow when plans change and getting comfortable with uncertainty all involve cognitive flexibility. Kids who can think flexibly may be better able to manage their emotions and handle setbacks.

The research on cognitive flexibility to date suggests that it develops along different trajectories for different cultural groups, which may be shaped by experiences in children’s daily lives.

5. Planning

Planning involves one’s capacity to organize and prioritize tasks. Children with well-developed planning skills tend to complete school assignments and other tasks in a timely manner.

Without these skills, students are overwhelmed and often resort to problem behaviors. Fortunately, planning is a learnable skill. An academic planner can help students develop and maintain strong planning skills. CLICK HERE for more on how to use a planner effectively.

6. Self-Control

Self-control is about resisting distractions, inhibiting impulses, delaying gratification and staying focused on goals. It also involves regulating emotional responses and movements.

Kids can practice self-control by modifying verbal behaviors (swearing less, using complete and grammatical sentences) and physical behaviors (using their non-dominant hand for everyday tasks). They can also use a variety of metacognitive strategies. For example, thinking about the future rewards of their efforts can increase motivation.

7. Attention

Attention is what helps us follow directions, focus in class, and stay organized. It is also important for staying on task, overcoming distractions, and controlling impulsivity.

Often kids who struggle with executive functioning skills have difficulty paying attention. This can cause issues with schoolwork, homework, and even social interactions. To help address these struggles, it is a good idea to talk with an experienced professional.

8. Listening

Many business problems result from the failure to understand or convey information. Building awareness of the importance of listening can eliminate a significant percentage of such errors.

Ask a group of salesmen to write down useful information they receive aurally from customers. Then encourage them to use the information as a basis for a listening critique of their colleagues. This requires self-control that is not always easy to achieve.

9. Memory

Memory is a broad term that encompasses working memory, remembering episodes of your life (episodic memory) and our general knowledge of facts about the world (semantic memory). All of these types of memories follow the same basic principles.

Working memory is often a problem area for kids with executive functioning challenges. Many of the strategies that help support this skill overlap with those that can improve planning, organization and shifting attention.

10. Social Skills

A good set of social skills can help people deal with frustration, avoid conflict and stay calm. They also make it possible to effectively communicate with colleagues and customers.

These skills are shaped, not innate and can be improved over time. They are life skills and can be included as part of health or life skills classes.

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