By Amanda Morin
Here are nine key terms and phrases doctors and other professionals use to describe executive function skills and the way your child thinks and learns.
The many different ways your child’s brain automatically makes sense of things. When experts refer to cognition or to cognitive skills, they mean how your child thinks, knows, remembers, judges and problem-solves.
Your child’s ability to connect what she thinks and knows to how she feels and reacts. Poor emotional control might cause your child to overreact or respond inappropriately to things that upset her. For example, if she loses her video game time because she didn’t finish her chores, she may have a tantrum because her siblings still have their game time.
Your child’s ability to think of alternate ways of doing things, integrate new ideas into existing thinking, and abandon what isn’t working to try a new approach. If your child has difficulty seeing other viewpoints or gets stuck on ideas even if they’re not the best plans, experts might describe her as a “rigid thinker.”
The ways your child gathers and stores information to use in the future. When experts talk about organization, it’s not just about lining things up or putting them away. They’re also referring to how your child stores and manages information in her brain so she can pull it out of her mental filing cabinet when she needs to use it.
Your child’s ability to keep track of her performance on a task, assess how it measures up to a goal, and catch and correct mistakes. Without self-monitoring skills, your child may set the dinner table without noticing that she’s putting the silverware in the wrong place and then be surprised when the table doesn’t look like it should.
Your child’s ability to get started on an activity and come up with ideas or problem-solving strategies on her own. For example, your child may not be able to initiate the task of cleaning her room because she can’t figure out the first thing to do or any of the steps after that.
Your child’s ability to hold onto information in order to complete a task or activity. Working memory is a combination of auditory and visual-spatial memory, and relies on attention skills, too. If your child has weak working memory skills, things may “slip her mind” or be “right on the tip of her tongue.”
Your child’s ability to use her “mind’s eye” to hold onto visual information long enough to use it. Visual-spatial memory is like a camera in your child’s brain. It can take snapshots to help her do things like search through laundry to find a sock that matches one you’ve shown her. It helps her recall where new things are and where she is in relation to them—for example, finding the bathroom in the middle of the night at a friend’s house without bumping into walls.
Your child’s ability to hold onto information she hears long enough to use it. It’s what helps her remember the five words she just read so she can understand how they fit together in a sentence. It’s also what helps her remember a phone number someone just said to her long enough to dial it.
Kids with sensory processing issues can be oversensitive to taste and smells, from cooking spices to minty toothpastes to scented shampoos. An occupational therapist can help your child develop coping skills. There are also activities you can do to help at home.
If your child struggles with math, you might find it tough to keep up with the jargon teachers use. Here are key terms to help you take an active role in conversations about your child’s math issues.
A parent advocate and former teacher, Amanda Morin is the proud mom of kids with learning and attention issues and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.
Bob Cunningham, M.A., Ed.M.
Jan 03, 2014
Jan 03, 2014
What’s the Difference Between Executive Functioning Issues and ADHD?
At a Glance: 8 Key Executive Functions
How Does a Child With Executive Functioning Issues Think Differently?
Executive Functioning Issues: What You’re Seeing in Your Preschooler
Executive Functioning Issues: What You’re Seeing in Your High-Schooler
Executive Functioning Issues and Learning: 6 Ways to Help Your Middle-Schooler
For most of these you might be able to find sections on Understood.org that you may find helpful. For example, #4 regarding organization, you may want to check out our infographic on At a Glance: 7 Ways to Teach Your Middle-Schooler Organization Skills: www.understood.org/.../at-a-glance-7-ways-to-teach-your-middle-schooler-organization-skills
For working memory, check out 8 Working Memory Boosters: www.understood.org/.../8-working-memory-boosters
Our Parenting Coach also offers tips to work through common behavior challenges. You can browse tips by what you're seeing, and find practical ideas you can try at home: www.understood.org/.../parenting-coach
I hope this helps :)
These 9 terms are accurate and helpful in their description of each challenge but how would you go about providing help with each of the struggles mentioned?
We can't offer specific advice, but it sounds like you're on a good track by having more testing in place. In terms of medications, you may want to take a look at this section, which has several resources about medications and how they work. If you're concerned about a how a medication is working, it's best to talk to your child's doctor. Write down what you're seeing and discuss those observations to help make a decision.
As for educational and parenting strategies that are an important part of managing attention issues like ADHD, you may want to look at our At-a-Glance information about classroom accommodations that help students with executive functioning issues and ADHD. You can even print them to share with your son's teachers.
I hope this helps!
My son is nine and has been diagnosed with ADHD. Myself and hose teachers have noticed some processing problem's. He doesn't copy things correctly, frequently gets lost. confused, or forgets how to do things, ocd tendencies, pronounces words wrong, has difficulty following directions, will either give tons of details or none at all, has trouble getting things on paper. Loud noise confrontation. OE having to be rushed bothers him, recently he gets agitated and angry to the point of violence at times. The ADHD meds help some with the hyperactivity but none with the inattention and other problems. I am just now getting some one to listen and understand that something other than ADHD is at play I just do not know what and, we are in rhw middle of testing, we have tried some stimulant meds they all !make him very over emotional, but even the non stimulants his teachers say they can't tell he has taken anything. Can someone please give me some insight and maybe some ideas on what we awith l
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