Executive Functioning Training in the Treatment of Learning Disorders

Executive Functioning Training in the Treatment of Learning Disorders

What is intelligence?

What about productivity and competency?

There is an entire world of answers to questions like these, but the way that these things are measured in our lives would suggest otherwise. At school, they’re gauged by performance on a test. At work, they’re tested by output.

One thing that muddies the waters of these evaluations is executive functioning. You might be a very bright person, but executive dysfunction could obscure that.

It’s important not to see this as a personal failure but as a circumstance, you can overcome in life. Executive functioning training helps many people get a better handle on life every day.

What Is Executive Functioning Training?

Executive functioning, the “management system of the brain,” allows us to accomplish tasks. It’s closely tied with our ability to make a conscious effort toward something. Even a small task, like writing your name on a piece of paper, requires executive function.

People aren’t born with these abilities already in place. Instead, they are born with the potential to develop executive functioning skills.

This development starts early on and isn’t complete until age 30. If someone has an issue with executive functioning, they might experience delays at every step of the way. This is often seen with children struggling to meet their learning goals.

Executive functioning training is a treatment option for people who experience these delays or other inconveniences in their lives that arise from executive dysfunction. This is a process best done in conjunction with a professional, and it’s a deep dive into what is causing these delays and issues.

The processes involved in executive functioning cover 3 main areas:

1. Working Memory

This is the knowledge you have that’s readily accessible in the moment.

Have you ever been so tired that you had trouble remembering things? You might have known the information was somewhere in your mind, but you just couldn’t think of it right then. That is, the information was stored in your long-term memory, but you had trouble getting it to working memory.

This is an example of something getting in the way of your executive functioning. Even people who don’t have a mental disorder can experience this from time to time due to stress or fatigue.

2. Mental Flexibility

Like physical flexibility, mental flexibility is a way to describe how much we can stretch ourselves.

According to the Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology, mental flexibility is “the ability to shift a course of thought or action according to the changing demands of a situation.” Someone who has problems with executive functioning might at a loss when a change is made to their plan. Because we live in an ever-changing world, this can make life a lot more stressful.

Mental flexibility is a major component of decision-making. If you think about it, the way we navigate through the day is a series of decisions.

You might’ve heard of people wearing the same outfits every day to avoid decision fatigue. This is because of the thought that executive functioning, especially mental flexibility, is a limited resource. That is, we only have so much executive functioning to use every day, so why spend it on choosing clothes?

We don’t want to overload the system. However, there is another way we can avoid this overload without having to decrease the number of decisions we actually make.

3. Self Control

Self-control is something that’s often talked about in everyday settings, and you probably already have a decent idea of what it is. When you exercise the control not to do something that you know will make things worse, later on, you are using the executive functioning skill of self-control.

This part of executive function is constantly in relationship with the other two parts. If you’re experiencing problems with mental flexibility, that could affect your ability to imagine the future as circumstances change. And having a concept of the future is crucial because it tells you what you are controlling yourself for.

How Do I Know If I’m Experiencing Executive Dysfunction?

As we’ve stated earlier, people without a disorder can experience moments of executive dysfunction in times of fatigue or stress. But it can also turn into a chronic problem. Executive function disorder (EFD), a condition involving continuous executive dysfunction, can be spotted by warning signs like these:

  • Frequently keeping track of objects (like keys)
  • Inability to multitask
  • Trouble following what someone is saying
  • Trouble following directions or other step-by-step instructions
  • Time-blindness, or inability to plan for future events

You might recognize all these things as “normal” human behavior that happens when we’re not feeling our best, or when we’re distracted. And it’s true that executive functioning has its ups and downs in the neurotypical population.

But imagine feeling like this all the time. It might feel like the world was placing demands on you that you couldn’t keep up with. This is what many people experience every day due to executive function disorder.

Executive dysfunction can happen due to an event or a co-occurring condition. For example, someone with a traumatic brain injury, a mood disorder, or a learning disorder can experience executive dysfunction. While treatment for these other conditions may help restore executive functioning, treatment for executive dysfunction, in particular, is a good way to hone in on what you’re struggling with.

If you have a learning disorder and want to improve your daily outcomes, you might want to look into treatment that specializes in executive functioning.

Wrapping Up

Executive functioning training is something that can improve the lives of many people who struggle with memory, decision-making, multitasking, and self-control. For some who feel overwhelmed with the demands of daily life, this could be a problem with executive function. Nowadays, this is something you can treat with a specialized approach.

If you’d like to get connected to one of our licensed professionals, schedule an appointment with us today. We’d love to create a plan that works for you.

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