Introduction to Executive Functions

Executive Functions, as the plural name implies, are not really one thing. They are a collection of skills and abilities that depend on an area of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex. Executive Functions (EF) are essential for mindful, attentional, goal-directed behavior.

Developmental cognitive neuroscientist Adele Diamond, PhD, perhaps the foremost expert and researcher on Executive Functions in the world today, has referred to Executive Functions as a shorthand for the skills necessary for success in school, making friends, college, work, in addition to making friends and avoiding impulsive behavior. Very intelligent young adults can still experience academic, social, life skill and career challenges if they have deficits in their Executive Functions. And it’s not unusual for students who at an early age had some very basic Executive Function support through school or who worked with an organizational coach (organizing a work space and a back pack, providing a planner to keep track of assignments and appointments) to learn that they still have Executive Function issues during middle school, high school or even college as various types of demands and expectations increase.

If EF issues—either by themselves or in concert with other learning challenges—rise to the level of having a young adult formally evaluated, referral for EF coaching by the evaluator may outline specific areas of EF vulnerabilities to be addressed.

The good news, as Dr. Diamond has noted, is that “virtually anyone’s Executive Function skills can be improved, at any age.” It just takes the right approach, lots of practice and pushing yourself to do better and better. This process can be greatly facilitated by skillful EF mentoring or coaching.

The information that follows may be very helpful to you, both in understanding Executive Functions and how to best remediate Executive Function challenges.


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