Promoting Executive Functioning Over the Summer Vacation
According to the Encyclopedia of Autism (2013), individuals on the autism spectrum have a pronounced impairment in executive functioning. Executive functioning (EF) impairments are not unique to autism and can be found in children with other types of disabilities, such as Attention Deficit. During summer vacation, without the structure of the school day, some students lose the gains they made in strengthening their executive functioning over the course of the school year.
What is executive functioning (EF) and what can parents do to promote EF during the summer vacation? Solomon (2013) defines executive function as “…a broad term used to describe the set of cognitive processes required to prepare for and execute goal-directed behaviors” (p. 1179-1180). It is described as a ‘higher level cognitive process that involves goal or rule representation, inhibition, cognitive flexibility or switching from task to task, and planning. ’Problem solving and abstract reasoning are thought to be a part of executive functioning (Solomon, 2013).
A free resource for parents to help them understand executive functioning is available on You Tube. It was created by Dr. Russell Barkley from the Medical University of South Carolina and the Child Mind Institute. Dr. Barkley has spent his career studying ADHD and impairments in executive functioning. This short, 3 minute video beautifully conceptualizes the notion of executive functioning. It can be found at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GR1IZJXc6d8.
(1) Inhibition of Behavior; (2) Visual Imagery (non-verbal working memory); (3) Self Talk; (4) Emotional Control and (5) Planning & Problem Solving (Prioritizing). In the video he briefly explains each of these components and gives examples. For example, Visual Imagery, according to Dr. Barkley, requires visual working memory comprised of hindsight, foresight, and a visual sense of time. Self-Talk, he explains, involves verbal working memory, or the ability to talk oneself through solving a problem or reaching a goal. For parents interested in more of Dr. Barkley’s research on executive functioning deficits we recommend Executive Functions: What They Are, How They Work, and Why They Evolved, Barkley (2012).
Two of the essential elements in strengthening executive functioning skills are externalizing cues and checklists and practicing the components of executive functioning with the aid of external coaching. In the summer parents are the most likely coaches. The anchor to any such plan is the use of a planner. There is much debate over the efficacy of electronic planners vs. physical planners. Ultimately something that is used is preferable to a system that is neglected.
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