What Is Executive Functioning? How Can OTs Help With It?

Executive functioning is a fairly common term used in the neuropsychology and healthcare world. It's the mental capacity to process information while you complete other activities, focus attention and to plan and remember instructions. It's a skill that enables kids to filter out distractions, control impulses and prioritize action goals. The development of executive function starts in infancy and continues to develop well into early adulthood.

Executive functioning skills are cognitive skills used for executing tasks. They help with sensory processing, self regulation and help you organize, plan, shift between thoughts or situations, make decisions, learn from past mistakes and control your impulsivity and emotions. Children rely on these skills for everything from picking priorities, handwriting to packing a backpack.

How Can OTs Help with Executive Functioning?

Children learn executive functioning skills and some kids require more assistance and modeling than others.  The pediatric occupational therapist can help offer the proper guidance that will enable these skills to surface with their developmental milestones.

An OT can implement strategies to develop executive functioning skills such as:

  • Matching and memory games for promoting working memory.
  • Use of self-regulation methods through transition tasks and movement breaks to maintain focus.
  • Visual perception skills like using social stories or images for fostering organizational skills. 
  • Goal setting where kids are taught to sketch out what assignments will look like after they're completed to assist them in identifying where to begin, what the assignments will look like when completed and what components are required.

Executive function deficits could lead to reduced independence in occupations like these and present as trouble sustaining classroom learning attention, reduced functional play skills participation and inability to sustain or initiate social relationships with peers and more.  Therefore, it's a good idea to talk with your child's pediatric occupational therapist about what can be done to help them enhance their executive functioning skills.

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