Getting from Point A to Point B
It seems like the pace of life is increasing every day.
While some of us may greet life in the fast lane with open arms, others are left struggling to acclimate quickly.
Children with executive functioning problems (or other disorders, such as anxiety or ADHD) can face special challenges, particularly at school.
Here’s a look at what might be going on behind the scenes — and what to do about it — with children who struggle with executive functioning.
Struggling to keep up
Executive functioning disorders involve the challenge of getting from point A to point B.
Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, anxiety and depression are all possible causes of problems with executive functioning.
A child’s age is also a factor because as the brain develops, executive functioning skills generally improve.
While some executive functioning challenges are first identified during the middle school years, they can be a part of a child’s life throughout elementary school.
In middle school, the shift from a nurturing, stable classroom environment with a single supportive elementary teacher to a multi-classroom learning experience can mean a child has to put organizational and independent study skills to work for the first time.
It can become more difficult for some kids to stay organized and on top of their new class and homework schedules.
Children depend on their executive functioning abilities for some of the most basic parts of their daily schedules — and for some of the most complicated.
It involves memory, focusing, prioritizing, planning, organizing, self-monitoring and self-control.
What many adults take for granted — creating a plan, initiating action and following through — takes a level of focus that challenges many kids, even those who are developing well.
But if a child has an executive functioning disorder, seemingly everyday routines can feel impossible to complete.
The anxiety piece
Executive functioning can be affected by a child’s emotional state, too. Symptoms of anxiety and depression can have a large impact on a child’s ability to regulate behaviors, emotions and attention.
Anxiety can lead to academic or social challenges that are difficult to recover from — and when coupled with an executive functioning disorder, daily functioning can be even more impaired.
Anxiety commonly co-occurs with other conditions or factors. For instance, constant worry about reading aloud could actually stem from a learning disorder; fretting about a test might be traced back to an inability to focus in class and feel properly prepared.
So even if anxiety seems to be specific to a situation, it’s important to dig deeper and identify any possible associations with learning and/or attention issues.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders.
However, there are immediate, short-term strategies that can help an anxious child even before any diagnostic tests are applied, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise and sleep, meditation, an improved routine and limiting screen time to no more than two hours a day.
These strategies are healthy approaches that can work for any child, including those with anxiety.
Seeking out a therapist also offers an opportunity to assess the causes of anxiety and can help identify situations that might be triggers for a child.
Indeed, a competent and qualified therapist will be able to provide strategies and resources for children and their families that can lead to improvement with overall daily functioning.
Groves Academy in St. Louis Park, Minnesota’s only established independent school for children with learning disabilities and attention disorders, also offers a wide variety of diagnostic assessments for students of all ages in the Twin Cities as well as a workshop series.
When families gain access to a variety of coping strategies and support, anxiety and executive functioning disorders can be diagnosed and handled quickly.
In this ever-changing society, let’s make sure our children are getting from point A to point B.
Ethan Schwehr is a licensed psychologist at The Learning Center at Groves Academy in St. Louis Park, which offers expertise in literacy, dyslexia, study skills and more. Groves serves the Twin Cities through its school as well as outreach and teacher-training programs.