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  • Writer's pictureThuy Truong, M.A. Ed.

Let Your Child's Executive Function Skills Sink In Faster This Fall: The Real Kickoff Starts In Summer (3 Parents' Lifesavers)


Let Your Child's Executive Function Skills Sink In Faster This Fall:  The Real Kickoff Starts In Summer
Let Your Child's Executive Function Skills Sink In Faster This Fall: The Real Kickoff Starts In Summer

| by Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed., TPT Teaching and Coaching, 6/20/2024|



Executive function at the foundational level is governed by six major pillars:

  1. Cognitive Flexibility- flexible thinking despite set backs or challenges.

  2. Response Inhibition- use self-restraint to get the immediate tasks done.

  3. Emotional Control - emotional management when undesirable things happen.

  4. Working Memory - the act of holding information in the brain to get things done.

  5. Sustained Attention - being able to prolong focus and concentration from start to finish.

  6. Task Initiation - can start assignments without undue procrastination.


Out of the six components, there are three that will automatically give life to the others. For example, if a child practices response inhibition frequently, then he will likely also be practicing emotional control, sustained attention, working memory, task completion, and cognitive flexibility simultaneously. Therefore, response inhibition, cognitive flexibility and working memory are a subset of all the other executive functioning skills, if exercised regularly. Findings in one related study suggest shorter practice sessions may improve speed and accuracy in students' skills acquisition. Summer is the perfect time to start as students with ADHD/LD often need repeated retrievals and practices to make significant gains over time. Let's look at the bright side, if your child can grasp most or all foundational executive function skills during summer, that means you as a parent will have less work to do in the fall. It's a win win!



Practice Response Inhibition:

Research shows that "response inhibition appears to be a primary deficit that is observed even when executive function demands of tasks are minimal "  for students with ADHD. In a nutshell, response inhibition is the ability to say no to distractions while completing a task of importance. An interesting empirical fact is, the more cognitive demand and working memory load a task requires, the less response inhibition a student will have. Young people nowadays live in a world of endless distractions and entertainment, so the sophisticated ability to bend the mind to neglect inviting interferences will be critical to almost every student's academic and career success. So how can you help your child hone it during summertime? Essentially, it is really creating opportunities for the child to practice the model of "duties before rewards." What it could look like in real life? Have your child:


  • Clean room, then get snacks.

  • Practice doing one thing they don't like every week, but do it anyway. Then, grant him/her a desired reward. You are building up their resilience towards unattractive tasks (an essential life skill).

  • Update family's calendar/any tasks in 10 minutes (use a timer), BEFORE they can do a task they enjoy.

  • Complete all household chores assigned and/or any important tasks by 9pm because the internet will be shut down.


Response inhibition is the lifeline to getting things done. When your child feels comfortable silencing the voice that says: "You don't need to be doing this right now. You can get out of this; you can play games instead." This practice is your child's direct gateway to personal resilience because it is about personal responsibility and self-control.




Fun With Cognitive Flexibility:


It has been postulated that children with ADHD perform poorer on tasks due to deficits in lower-order cognitive processes and NOT just on higher-order thinking related to executive functioning skills. That is why it is important that students with executive function impairment practice cognitive flexibility. What it could look like in real life? Have your child try out the following:


  • When your child asks permission to do something, have your child come up with a good reason that will get you to say yes. Help your child draw out an idea whenever he/she is stuck. Persuasive skills are related to cognitive flexibility.

  • When you watch movies together, ask your child if he can guess what the character may do next and the reason for it. Or, what is an alternative action that the character could do instead of what he/she just did in the movie?

  • Sit down weekly with your child and brainstorm all the possible fun activities you guys can do for the weekend. Look at local events online if you need ideas.


Walking your child through task-specific directions may prove to be highly promising for executive function development and maintenance. A study reveals that "task-specific stimulation protocols can improve EFs in ADHD."





Turn On Working Memory Like A Light Switch:


ADHD literature investigates and confirms that working memory plays a dominant role in high academic performance. Despite we live in the age of technological advancement, students with ADHD/LD don't always make the connection that the functionalities in their phone can aid them in their academic endeavors. I believe students must be prompted to remember and utilize various technological tools to capture information to boost their working memory for academic attainment. What it could look like in real life? Have your child try the following:


  • Whenever your child finds something attractive/fun during your summer vacation, have your child take a picture of it via phone. This is repeated practice for how to remember something quickly and easily. Most of all, it is an efficient way to manage memory and information. This will teach your student how to capture information swiftly and conveniently using resources at their fingertips.

  • Teach your child how to make a paper/phone grocery list using abbreviations as sometimes in academic institutions, your child cannot use a phone during instructional time, so teaching them how to abbreviate notes will come in handy for real-world purposes (they'll come faster than you think).

  • Time your child and ask your child to draw/think of a picture/emojis/symbols in 2-3 minutes to remember different things (chores, allowance, games, cartoon characters or any small details). Have fun with this one! Be creative, go with your child's spontaneous, evolving interests!


When it comes to processing new information and retaining new skills, regular practice creates familiarity and cements working memory. After all, a student cannot implement skills if he cannot remember what they are or the process. That's why daily living implementation of executive function year-round is the highest predictor of long-term success.


 


Research:


Gropper, R. J., & Tannock, R. (2009). A Pilot Study of Working Memory and Academic Achievement in College Students With ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 12(6), 574-581. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054708320390


Nejati, V., Salehinejad, M. A., Nitsche, M. A., Najian, A., & Javadi, A.-H. (2020). Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Improves Executive Dysfunctions in ADHD: Implications for Inhibitory Control, Interference Control, Working Memory, and Cognitive Flexibility. Journal of Attention Disorders, 24(13), 1928-1943. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054717730611


Orly F., Karni, A., & Adi-Japha, E. (2016). The consolidation of a motor skill in young adults with ADHD: Shorter practice can be better. Research In Developmental Disabilities, (51-52), 135-144.


Rommelse, N.N.J., Altink, M.E., de Sonneville, L.M.J. et al. Are Motor Inhibition and Cognitive Flexibility Dead Ends in ADHD?. J Abnorm Child Psychol 35, 957–967 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-007-9146-z


Wodka, E. L., Mark Mahone, E., Blankner, J. G., Gidley Larson, J. C., Fotedar, S., Denckla, M. B., & Mostofsky, S. H. (2007). Evidence that response inhibition is a primary deficit in ADHD. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 29(4), 345–356. https://doi.org/10.1080/13803390600678046



 



Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed.

As a Certified ADHD Professional/Coach and Licensed Educator for 19 years, Thuy's holistic approach combines Learning Science with ADHD Science to design brain hack strategies that foster students'/individuals' long-term independence, motivation, and self-management skills. She is diligent in understanding her students and adults on all levels (ADHD, Executive Dysfunction, Autism, Dysgraphia, Anxiety, Depression, Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors-BFRB, Written Expression Disorder, Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit-SRCD, ADHD and Syncope-fainting spells). She listens deeply and spots the missing piece very quickly then she swiftly turns around to personalize tailored strategies to meet her clients' unique needs. She believes in evidence-based practices as well as giving the student/individual the best of all worlds: learning science, cognitive science, and ADHD science. Her favorite part is recognizing the missing puzzle and customizing the "brain hack" in a language that is unique to that individual while meeting all their needs. She especially enjoys helping students/adults translate their challenges into actionable steps and likes letting them know that they are well loved!


Learn more about how Thuy marries a student's cognitive style with brain hack strategies here.



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