I never saw an executive function

In the field of learning disabilities there is a lot of talk about executive function.  The NCLD has a whole page about it. 

It involves

Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.

But I never saw an executive function.I have certainly seen executives (and everyone else!) do all those things. But each of the activities listed in the above quote is not one thing, but many.  I am very able to plan some things (e.g. I can organize an essay or a blog post; I can write and give a presentation) and yet have a hard time with some other planning (how long does it take to get to the airport?). When I was getting my PhD I could plan and organize well enough to graduate, but I got lost on the way to the dining hall.

I remember some details very well. The details of a joke? No problem. Keeping track of coursework? Not a big deal. But where did I put the XXXX? I have no idea. What does XXXX look like? I don’t remember.

By lumping all these things into one “executive function” I think we make it harder to figure out exactly what we (or our kids) are having trouble with and what we can use to do it better.



  1. Christine says

    If you could tell parents one thing that you wish your parents knew about you (or maybe one thing that your parents did really well to help you) what would it be? I’m trying to help my almost 7 year old with NVLD and Aspergers navigate his world successfully.

  2. Probably that they were praising me for things I did easily and not praising me for things I had trouble with

  3. Christine says

    What was hard for you? My son is six and he has trouble with social situations, anything having to do with visual perceptual, writing, attention… But he is very charming, funny, great at music and can do some simple programming.

  4. This makes so much sense! I have a 10 year old 2e son with NVLD and we have been braced since his diagnosis (at age 7) for terrible Executive Function. There have been dire warnings about it. But I’ve had my jaw on the floor more often than not as this kid has been able to organize and plan as a musician and member of a high-level orchestra, navigate an orchestral camp day with a combination locker and having to sign up for and organize his own practice rooms, rehearsal venues, etc., and seeing him come home from school and leave himself Post-It reminders at his desk of long-range projects which he always completes on time with no prodding or help from me. But the kid can’t remember whether the laundry in the basket is clean or dirty and whether he put away the clean or not. We thought he’d be constantly missing his materials, forgetting homework, and all of that, but not at all. Instead he can’t figure out how to get his books to fit into his bookshelves and can’t see the difference between spines facing out vertically and spines facing out horizontally.

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