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There has been a lot more chatter about executive functions lately and their role in speech disorders.  What exactly are executive functions?

executive functions what's your function hands typing teacher the speech bubble slp

Great question!  Here is quick background information.  According to The National Center for Learning Disabilities  ” 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.”   Even though executive function difficulties can seen observed at any age they are typically noticed when students are in early elementary, so roughly 2nd and 3rd grade.

 Common Observations:

– Difficulty with planning and organization. This can be seen quite notably in writing and syntax.

– Difficulty with the concept of time and how long it may take to complete an assignment.

– Difficulty following directions and completely steps in sequence.

– Difficulty with memory and recall.

– Difficulty starting tasks, not for lack of motivation but for lack of understanding how to start.

– Difficulty coming up with original ideas.

– Difficulty retaining information as they complete a task, ex: Remembering how to spell a word as they write it.

– Difficulty taking feedback and understanding how to apply it.

So how can we help our students who have executive function difficulties?  Here are some strategies that can be used to help students:


– Use pictures schedules for daily activities

– Graphic organizers that are color coded

– Visual timers such as a sand or gel timer so students can ‘see’ how much time is left.

– Give students a planner for assignments

– Break up large assignments into smaller chunks

– Create a check list to get through assignments ex: put name on paper, read directions, complete task, proofread paper, etc.

– Create a clean and organized space i.e locker, desk, work area.

Hopefully these tips will help you if you have students with executive function difficulties.  Do you have strategies that you have seen work?

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Meet Maureen

Hey there! I’m Maureen Wilson, a school-base SLP who is data driven and caffeine powered. My passion is supporting other pediatric SLPs by teaching them how to harness the power of literacy and data to help their students achieve their goals…without sacrificing time they don’t have.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi! I work with a number of kids who struggle with executive functions. I recently purchased a biofeedback watch and am excited to see what if any improvements happen in the areas of initiation, sustained attention, task completion!

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