What is Executive Function, and How does it Affect our Daily Life, Academic Performance and Mental Health?

Your elementary-aged child’s teacher calls and says she hasn’t turned in her homework. You know she completed it, but she isn’t sure where it is now or why she didn’t turn it in.

Your teenager is late on a few assignments but can’t seem to get started. You know he can master the material, but neither of you understand why it isn’t getting done.

You’ve been reading for half an hour, but you can’t pick out one important fact. The more you try to get caught up, the more overwhelmed you feel, and even simple tasks start to seem like too big of a challenge.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Executive Function

The answer may be as simple as executive function support. Essentially, executive function is a set of cognitive skills that we use every day to work, learn and manage life, which are primarily working memory, flexible thinking and inhibition control. Skills that fall under these three main areas include things like time management and planning, task initiation and task completion, focus, self awareness and emotional regulation. 

Not only are executive function struggles very common, they can be frustrating as they cause difficulties with completing tasks, paying attention, meeting deadlines and handling emotions, among others. These issues are often misunderstood as behavior challenges, lack of motivation or poor study/work habits instead of a deficit in skills that can be developed through coaching and support.

The Mental Health Link

Executive function and mental health are often intertwined. The good news is, executive function skills are not static and may simply need to be developed, taught and understood. However, some individuals may also be dealing with anxiety or other influences, either caused or exacerbated by executive function issues. For those with ADD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, general anxiety and processing differences, or even a combination of these diagnoses, additional executive function struggles are common. It is important to help identify and support any co-occurring mental health or educational needs. 

The Benefits of Coaching

Executive function coaching and groups are a therapeutic intervention that can help support individuals in all areas of their lives. In group or one-on-one sessions, we work to create a safe, positive and nurturing environment, taking into consideration the wide range of factors that may be influencing the client’s executive function. The first step is awareness; helping clients understand what’s happening in their brain, how it’s affecting their executive function, and how it all works. Then, they begin to learn steps, strategies, tasks and routines that can help improve function in these areas.

With adolescent executive function coaching, the goal is for clients to become more aware, empowered and independent, able to advocate for themselves and improve performance in work, academics, sports, relationships and more, as well as an increase in overall well-being and personal growth.

At Ethos Behavioral Health Group healing centers, we take a unique approach to executive function support, where we look at both the influence of mental health and the educational aspect of skill development. Incorporating mental health and overall wellness, we are able to perform a deeper examination to identify and support the root cause of executive function needs. We provide one-on-one executive function coaching for individuals ranging from elementary-age to young adults, as well as executive function psychoeducation groups.

If you or a loved one may be struggling with executive function, please reach out to us to learn more and register for coaching sessions. All communication is confidential.

About the Author

With a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in psychology and education and a master’s in professional counseling, Learning Specialist Casey Casteel appreciates the opportunity to support and empower students through executive function coaching here at Ethos, helping them overcome the struggles she often witnessed in her previous roles. Casey has extensive experience helping children, teens and adults overcome social, emotional and behavioral difficulties and various learning differences by utilizing their strengths to help them achieve success.

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