What is Executive Function Disorder?
Executive Function Disorder is most easily explained as the inability to stay calm and on task. Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), ADHD, and Autism tend to struggle with Executive Function Disorder primarily and it can follow them their whole lives.
Executive Function Disorder is characterized by slower processing speed within the essential brain areas for the skills related to attention, planning, organization, and working memory. Slower processing speed makes it difficult for children to stay on task in real-time to be able to stay engaged.
The 3 main areas of Executive Function Disorder include problems with (1) Working Memory, (2) Cognitive Flexibility, and (3) Inhibitory, Self-Control. These areas of cognitive function are not developed due to the brain areas not being properly wired. This difference in wiring, in most cases, is present from birth. The five main skills that children with Executive Function Disorder have difficulty with are:
- Paying Attention
- Organizing and Planning
- Initiating Tasks and Staying Focused on Them
- Regulating Emotions
- Self-Monitoring (by keeping track of their own progress)
What Is Executive Function?
Executive Function is a complex set of cognitive skills that makes it so a person can engage in an activity and see it through to completion. The 3 Main Areas of Executive Function include
- Working Memory
Working Memory is the ability to keep information in your mind to use it in some way in the near the future. You might do this if you have been told some information that you need to use for an upcoming work project. A child might do this is they have read a passage and then need to write a paragraph about it without looking back at it. Working Memory is a very important cognitive skill that we depend upon many times throughout our day. If Working Memory skills are not intact, work and school performance can suffer significantly.
- Cognitive Flexibility
Cognitive Flexibility, also known as flexible thinking, is essential to approach a problem or situation from multiple angles. This might be a math problem with two ways of reaching the answer or multiple conclusions to a story. Those who do not possess Cognitive Flexibility tend to be rigid in their thinking and only see one perspective, theirs.
- Inhibitory Self-Control
Inhibitory Self-Control allows a child to sit in class and ignore the distraction and stay focused to task. Being able to inhibit one’s behaviors is essential to succeed in the classroom and at work. Imagine if everyone said what they were thinking all the time or did what they felt like doing in the moment. Chaos would ensue. Inhibitory Self-Control helps a person remain engaged in their current environment before moving on to another. This is essential to perform your best at school, work, and play.
Who has Executive Function Disorder?
Science shows that children who struggle with Executive Function Disorder most are those children diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). These three disorders cause brain areas to not work as they should. The frontal lobe of the brain
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is significantly on the rise of being diagnosed in the United States. It affects boys more than girls and can wreak havoc on a person’s life if not controlled. ADHD is considered to be a type of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), one that includes Hyperactivity. There are actually 7 types of ADD according to the brain pattern that a person has as seen on qEEG Brain Mapping. The area(s) of the brain that is not working as it should controls skills and abilities thus creating different and unique challenges for each type of ADD. ADHD specifically involves the frontal lobe of the brain that controls executive function and the area that controls inhibition of impulsive behaviors is not wired properly.
The brain pattern associated with Autistic Spectrum Disorders is one mostly of noise in the signal and difficulty with communication between brain areas. Children with Autism tend to struggle with Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder and have impaired cognitive abilities that directly involve Executive Function Skills.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome not only involves impaired functioning of the frontal lobe that controls Executive Function but many other brain areas may be impaired in their functioning as well. People with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may also have difficulty with movement and coordination, skills that are located in the center and back areas of the brain. Language and social skills can be impacted and are housed in the left side of the brain. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can also causes mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and anger management as a child grows older. Any brain areas that have been damaged by the prenatal exposure to alcohol can be identified and visualized on a qEEG Brain Map and then can inform Brain-based Therapy.
What Skills are Associated with Executive Function Disorder?
Two associated cognitive skills that suffer in children and adults with Executive Function Disorder include “hot” executive function and lack of reflection.
Hot Executive Function: Executive function control can be more challenging to keep in check when a person is not in emotionally neutral situations. When a situation is emotionally charged, executive function skills can become even more important to use, and more difficult. During a test it may be more difficult to stay focused and calm. If another person instigates with harsh words, it becomes very challenging, or impossible, to keep emotions from flaring and acting out behaviors such as yelling or hitting to be avoided.
Reflection: Reflection includes that momentary pause a person should be able to take before he or she makes a decision, especially a harsh or rash decision. It can simply be the few second lapse where one runs a scenario mentally before moving forward with an action. This reduces impulsivity to deliberate action. Reflection allows children and adults to pause, notice challenges or consequences, think about their options and put them into context before acting. The skill of reflection can save people from big mistakes and great heartache.
How is Executive Function Disorder Diagnosed?
Executive Function Disorder can be diagnosed by tests that look at your ability to utilize the skills of Executive Function as outlined below. qEEG Brain Mapping can locate and identify which areas of the brain have been impacted, thus creating difficulties with Executive Function. For example, if the left frontal lobe shows slow processing speed then attention and working memory suffer. If the middle frontal lobe is not working properly then planning, organization and follow-through suffer. If the right frontal lobe is not wired properly then impulse control, judgment and emotional regulation do not happen adequately for the person. Social skills suffer dramatically when frontal lobe function is impaired. Any brain patterns that a person is using are evident and visible on a qEEG Brain Map. You can see which areas of the brain are not wired properly and thus not working properly and what needs to be done to improve their functioning and the quality of life that goes along with a healthy brain.
How Can Brain-based Therapies Help Executive Function Disorder?
There is an area of our brain that controls Executive Function. This area, the frontal lobe, controls your ability to plan, organize, and put small steps together to finish a big project. It is like to conductor of the train, keeping everything in order and running smoothly. If the “conductor” is moving slowly, then the train doesn’t run on time. Slow processing speed in these vital brain areas makes it difficult to focus, plan, organize, implement tasks, and stay calm. Under-activity brain patterns can be identified and visualized using qEEG Brain Mapping. The qEEG Brain Map shows the areas in the frontal lobe are using too much extra slow and slow processing speed. This pattern is proven by Science and can be seen in related studies and articles. Neurofeedback Therapy speeds up the brain areas that need to improve their processing speed. This happens by state-of-the-art computer systems exercising those areas of the brain that need to be strengthened until they become strong enough to do their jobs well.
Leigh Brain and Spine is proud to have earned the distinction as a Certified Brain Health Coach Center and is a proud member of the Amen Clinics referral network.