Specific learning differences will present specific deficits.  However, there are global deficits which will be manifest in most children diagnosed with some type of learning difference.   One of the most common areas of weakness is called executive functioning.  In fact, all teenagers experience low executive functioning skills when compared to adults; this is due entirely to brain development.  As the brain develops from  back to front, and as stronger links form between the left and right hemispheres, all the processes associated with “maturity” strengthen.  But it can be well into a person’s mid-20’s before the process is complete.

To read more about specific learning differences, see my article.

What is executive functioning?

It’s basically about organization.  It is the ability to:

  • Analyze a task
  • Break the task into logical steps
  • Sequence the steps
  • Prioritize
  • Set goals (both long and short term)
  • Monitor progress
  • Make decisions and exercise wise judgment
  • Re-evaluate if necessary

How do I know if my child has a weakness in the area of executive functioning?

Some signs that may indicate a weakness:

  • A tendency to become overwhelmed or shut down when faced with a multi-step task
  • Difficulty with physically organizing information on paper
  • Difficulty following routines or completing assignments
  • Difficulty with tasks requiring specific order or sequence (ie: multi-step directions, recounting a story or movie with correct order of events, writing a research paper)
  • Difficulty with time management or concepts with time (procrastination, over or under-estimating time something will take)
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty with spelling, handwriting, or math facts
  • Difficulty setting or achieving goals
  • Difficulty redirecting if something is not working, failure to see the “road signs”

Are there specific strategies to support learners with executive functioning deficits?

Yes!  Once we determine exactly what areas are presenting the biggest problem for your child, I model what it sounds like and looks like to process the task at hand.  Teaching metacognition (how to reflect on our own thinking) is an extremely valuable tool and can lead to many “aha” moments.  After modeling and discussion, specific strategies are taught and practiced until the student is executing the necessary skills on his/her own.  After all, I am not interested only in getting the paper done or the backpack organized; I am concerned with giving your child the tools to face future tasks with less apprehension and better judgment.

For more information on executive functioning, read my article.