Do you work with a student, have a child, or live with someone who is disorganized, inflexible, impulsive, and who struggles with planning and problem solving? Did you know that these traits fall into a category of skills called executive functions? Your student, child, or significant other may find it difficult to achieve in school, follow through with responsibilities at home, and/or interact appropriately in work and community settings – not because of a lack of effort or desire to do well but due to a lack of executive function (EF) skills.
One easy way to remember some of the major components of executive function is to think of the acronym FLIPP: Flexibility, Leveled emotionality, Impulse control, Planning/organizing, and Problem solving (Wilkins & Burmeister, 2015):
· Flexibility: The ability to change your mind and make changes to your plans as needed.
· Leveled Emotionality: The ability to emotionally self-regulate and avoid extensive mood swings
· Impulse Control: The ability to control your impulses, such as waiting to speak when called upon.
· Planning/Organizing: The ability to make plans and keep track of time and materials so that work is finished on time.
· Problem Solving: The ability to know when there is a problem that needs to be solved, generate solutions, select one, and evaluate the outcome.
Executive function deficits can negatively impact success at school, home, the community, and work. Although many educators associate deficits in EF skills with students on the autism spectrum, the reality is that many young people struggle with executive functioning. In fact, it is accurate to say that all young people are learning EF as these skills are not fully developed until people are well into their twenties. In addition, several clinical conditions, such as attention deficit disorders, fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, intellectual disability, obsessive-compulsive disorders, social communication disorder, specific learning disability, Tourette syndrome, and traumatic brain injury are often understood to include a component of EF deficits. Furthermore, individuals with diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia may also exhibit deficits in the area of executive function.
The bottom line is that many of the individuals with whom we interact on a daily basis may lack fully developed executive function skills. The good news is that there are some very easy-to-use strategies that can go a long way toward minimizing conflict and maximizing success in dealing with someone who struggles with EF. Tune in tomorrow for ideas to help with mental flexibility.