What is Executive Functioning training?


Over the past two decades a steady increase in research has begun to reveal the significant role executive functions (EF) play in education (Meltzer, 2016).  While many definitions exist regarding EF’s, the general consensus is that these skills constitute cognitive processes that help us accomplish tasks via the regulation of our emotions, attention, and behavior. Much of the seminal research in this area can be attributed to Drs. Peg Dawson, Richard Guare, Russell A. Barkley and Thomas E. Brown. Their work has helped identify and establish various areas of EF and have been particularly influential in the programmes designed and utilized by myself. While EF deficits are often associated with learners with ADHD they can exist in any learner and to varying extents. As a result I utilize a brief questionaire-styled assessment developed by Dr Peg Dawson and to help determine the areas of strength and those in need of attention. 

For further information on EF’s and how they apply in an educational setting please click below to read Thomas E Brown’s excellent article:

Executive: Describing six aspects of complex syndrome 

 Meltzer, L. (Ed.). (2018). Executive function in education: From theory to practice. Guilford Publications. 

Executive functioning skills

How do executive functioning skills relate to ADHD?

Drawing on Dr Brown’s 25 years of clinical interviews and research with children, adolescents and adults who have ADD/ADHD has led to the development an his expanded model to describe the complex cognitive functions impaired in ADD/ADHD. This model describes executive functions, the cognitive management system of the human brain as outlined in the link above.

According to Dr Brown, “Although the model shows six separate clusters, these functions continually work together, usually rapidly and unconsciously, to help each individual manage many tasks of daily life. The functions appear in basic forms in young children and gradually become more complex as the brain matures throughout childhood, adolescence and early adulthood” (Brown, 2020).

As mentioned previously we all have occasional challenges with executive functioning but it appears that students with ADHD (Both inattentive and hyperactive presentations) “experience much more difficulty in development and use of these functions than do most others of the same age and developmental level” (Brown, 2020).  It is also worth noting that many students with ADHD have areas in which their executive functioning is optimal or areas in which intense focus can be sustained, often referred to as hyper-focus.  Ultimately it is important that we do not mistake impairments of executive functions with a tendency to label ADHD students as merely being lazy.  

In my experience if the desire to gain better coping schools in these areas is present and a commitment to work through my various practical strategies then improvement can be seen. However the opposite is also true and those not prepared to work at it may not find EF skills training beneficial.