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What is executive functioning?

Executive functioning is a term used to describe a group of higher level cognitive processes (or, mental processes), like:

  • Planning and prioritizing

  • Decision making

  • Problem solving

  • Action sequencing

  • Task assignment and organizing

  • Effortful and persistent pursuit of goals

  • Inhibiting impulses

  • Mental flexibility

These processes use multiple areas of the brain to access language, judgment, logic, and reasoning. Although we use these mental skills constantly in our day-to-day lives, we aren’t born with executive functioning. Instead, we learn and develop these skills throughout childhood and early adulthood.

For various reasons explored further below, some people experience problems with executive functioning. This can create challenges with processes like planning, remembering, focusing

, multitasking, and self-control, making it a struggle to keep up with daily life tasks such as going to work or school.

What is executive function coaching?

Executive function coaching is an intervention aimed at helping people to develop and learn strategies to improve attention, manage their emotions, organize and plan activities, and reflect on and change their approaches. It is usually delivered via one-on-one sessions with a coach so that you can work on your individual goals.

What can executive function coaching help with?

Challenges with executive functioning are associated with various conditions, including:

  • ADHD

  • Learning disabilities

  • Dementia

  • Schizophrenia

  • Depression

That said, executive function coaches don’t only work with people who have a diagnosed condition. People who want to improve their current level of executive functioning, or slow their decline also seek coaching.

Does executive function coaching work?

There has not yet been a great deal of research into the efficacy of executive function coaching, so it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions about whether it works. The early research suggests that it is a promising intervention that can improve executive functioning for students with ADHD (1).

However, it is clear from the research that having strong executive functioning is beneficial in many ways. It has been associated with (2):

  • Job success

  • Career advancement

  • Marital happiness

  • Making friends

  • Weight management

  • Resisting substance abuse

  • Happiness and quality of life

Executive function coaching is one of many interventions proposed to improve executive functions, alongside other activities, like (1):

  • Computerized training

  • Games

  • Aerobics

  • Resistance training

  • Martial arts

  • Yoga

  • Mindfulness

  • Theatre

How does executive function coaching work?

Executive function coaches aim to help people improve their functioning in various ways. They help to identify the executive functioning challenges unique to the individual. They might review any assessments that have been undertaken to measure the various aspects of a person’s executive functioning, such as neuropsychological testing.

Once the target areas are identified, goals are set, and the coach teaches targeted strategies and tools to help with the specific challenges. Coaches might aim to help by:

  • Focusing on strengths to increase confidence

  • Teaching organizational skills and routines

  • Teaching time management skills and strategies

  • Teaching strategies to help manage distractions, and improve attention and concentration

  • Teaching skills for gathering, analyzing, and synthesizing information

  • Teaching strategies for solving problems

  • Using tools to help with memory

The aim is for each person to have the tools to be able to independently function better, without the ongoing assistance of the coach.

Length and frequency of executive function coaching sessions

Executive function coaching does not follow a particular protocol, so the length, frequency, and duration of sessions can be decided between you and your coach. Initially, sessions are weekly and are usually an hour in length.

You’ll be working together towards achieving particular goals and changes, which usually requires new behaviors and strategies to become established habits. This might mean working together for anywhere up to around 18 months. Coaches tend to reduce the frequency of sessions towards the end, as you become more confident and skilled.

What happens in a typical executive function coaching session

The content of a coaching session depends on individual needs and the particular aspect of executive functioning in focus. Typically, however, you and your coach will, in the initial sessions, have identified the area of focus and set some goals relating to this.

Each session is likely to start with a review of the previous week and any homework tasks assigned for practice; this is also an opportunity to problem-solve any difficulties encountered.

Together, you’re likely to set an agenda for the session; identifying the difficulty you’d like to focus on and discussing what you’d like to get out of your time together.

You’ll then learn skills and strategies to help you work towards your particular executive function goals. For example, you might have a big project coming up at work and be concerned about how you’ll complete it. Your coach might help you break the project down into smaller parts and then develop plans for approaching each part, and teach you how to use a time management tool so that you stay on track.

At the close of a session, you’ll usually agree on some homework tasks, such as practicing the use of the time management tool.

Have you noticed your child struggling with reading or writing? Or, has their teacher mentioned they’re falling behind? Know that you’re not alone. Many children, and even adults, have difficulties with learning. The great news is there are many services available to help your child.

A good starting point is a psychoeducational assessment to identify challenges, or for a deeper, 360o view, a neuropsychological assessment. Here we’ll describe what they are, how they differ, and how they can benefit your child.

About psychoeducational assessments

What is a psychoeducational assessment?

A psychoeducational assessment involves a standardized assessment of a child’s intellectual and academic abilities. It is administered by a psychologist or psychometrist and combined with clinical interviews, observations, and historical records to help understand how your child learns, and identify if and how they’re struggling. It measures overall aptitude and academic achievement around core skills, such as reading, writing and math. It involves a number of techniques, including pencil and paper activities, verbal responses, and the evaluation of motor skills (e.g., drawing, playing with blocks). The assessment varies based on a child’s age.

The results can help the psychologist understand your child’s potential (i.e., if they are gifted or have a learning disability) and provide strategies to support them. During these assessments, other concerns are also evaluated, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or anxiety, and recommendations for your child are based on a combination of standardized test results and the evaluation of psychosocial and/or mental health issues.

How do I know if my child needs one?

Typically, your child’s school will suggest a psychoeducational assessment if they notice that they are falling behind their peers. Sometimes, a teacher will bring it up with you directly. You may also notice signs that your child is struggling with reading, writing or math and want to take action. Learning difficulties are usually noticed around Grade 1 or 2, but it can happen earlier or later.

How do I get one, and how long will it take?

In publicly-funded school boards across Ontario, an assessment may be recommended by your child’s school support team if you and your child’s teacher decide that it is the best way to help your child. The assessment is free and will be performed at your child’s school by a psychologist or psychometrist.

Unfortunately, wait times for a psychoeducational assessment through the school board can be several months. Every school board is different, and wait times vary.

Is there an alternative if I want one faster?

If you want an assessment quickly, private clinics are an option. At CBT Associates, we offer them within about a month. Some private insurance plans offer partial or complete coverage. It’s a good idea to first check with your provider to see if all or part of the cost is covered.

If the results show my child has a learning disability, what next?

If the results indicate your child has a learning disability, rest assured they can thrive and succeed. In Ontario, the results from the psychoeducational assessment go from the psychologist to the school. They act as recommendations that will help your child’s teacher and the school board design an individualized educational program (IEP) to accommodate your child’s needs, helping them progress and succeed.

In some situations, an underlying issue, such as stress or anxiety, may be mistaken as a learning disability. Psychologists, such as those at CBT Associates, are trained to look at your child from multiple angles (e.g., medical history, family dynamics, social behaviour) to help get to the root of the problem. They will then work with you and your child to develop a clear plan to move forward.

About neuropsychological assessments

What is a neuropsychological assessment?

A neuropsychological assessment takes the psychoeducational assessment to a much deeper level. It is a more comprehensive assessment to understand how children think and behave as it relates to brain function. The assessment usually takes a full day, and measures:

  • Learning & memory: ability to retain information and what kind

  • Executive functions: attention, planning and mental flexibility

  • Finite movements: coordination and dexterity

  • Social information processing: how a child understands social language and social cues

Rest assured that it is not an exhausting or challenging experience. Your child will have many breaks, and be encouraged and supported during the whole process.

What is the difference from a psychoeducational assessment?

Both assessments are valuable, with the shared goal of helping set your child up for success. The neuropsychological assessment digs deeper than the psychoeducational assessment, with the goal of understanding how a child’s skills and behaviours relate to brain function.

The assessment is performed by neuropsychologists, who are specially trained in brain and behaviour relationships. Testing is done at a private clinic or hospital setting, not in schools. At CBT Associates, clinicians with deep expertise in neuropsychology provide the assessment.

While both assessments are typically done at an early age when issues tend to arise, they can also benefit adolescents and university-age students in identifying areas where they may need extra support.

Who should consider a neuropsychological assessment?

If you’re a parent looking to learn as much as you can about your child, a neuropsychological assessment is a good option. It reveals your child’s strengths and identifies ways to nurture them and help them thrive.

A neuropsychological assessment can be especially helpful for kids with developmental, mental health or behavioural issues, such as autism, epilepsy or bipolar disorder. The results will help the neuropsychologist identify strategies to help your child move forward. Some of this may go into an IEP with recommendations for accommodations for the school board to consider, and other results may recommend other forms of support, such as psychotherapy or speech therapy, for example.

Both give you a clear plan to help your child succeed.

Some parents may see that their child is struggling; others may not be sure. Either way, both assessments give you answers. Many parents feel relieved knowing that there is an issue, so that they can focus on getting their child the support they need. By identifying where your child needs help, and intervening early on, your child can thrive in school, and well beyond.

“A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.”

Psychologists Recommend Children be Bored in the Summer:

Source: Quart Media UK

Written by: Valerie Strauss June 11, 2016

Do you entertain your kids with chess camp, art school, cooking classes, or tennis lessons during the unstructured summer months? Or perhaps all of them? There are activities and summer camps galore to fill children’s time and supply much needed childcare when kids are out of school. But psychologists and child development experts suggest that over-scheduling children during the summer is unnecessary and could ultimately keep kids from from discovering what truly interests them. “Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy,” says Lyn Fry, a child psychologist in London with a focus on education. “If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.” Fry is not the only one to point out the benefits of boredom. Dr. Teresa Belton, visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia with a focus on the connection between boredom and imagination, told the BBC that boredom is crucial for developing “internal stimulus,” which then allows true creativity. And though our capacity for boredom may well have diminished with all the attractions of the internet, experts have been discussing the importance of doing nothing for decades.

In 1993, psychoanalyst Adam Phillips wrote that the “capacity to be bored can be a developmental achievement for the child.” Boredom is a chance to contemplate life, rather than rushing through it, he said in his book “On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life”. “It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take time to find what interests him. Boredom is integral to the process of taking one’s time,” added Phillips. Fry suggests that at the start of the summer, parents sit down with their kids—at least those above the age of four—and collectively write down a list of everything their children might enjoy doing during their break. These can be basic activities, such as playing cards, reading a book, or going for a bicycle ride. They could also be more elaborate ideas such as cooking a fancy dinner, putting on a play, or practicing photography. Then, if your child comes to you throughout the summer complaining of boredom, tell them to go and look at the list. “It puts the onus on them to say, ‘This is what I’d like to do’,” says Fry. While there’s a good chance children might mope around for a while and be bored, it’s important to realize that this isn’t wasted time. “There’s no problem with being bored,” says Fry. “It’s not a sin, is it? I think children need to learn how to be bored in order to motivate themselves to get things done. Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant.” This same theory was put forward in 1930 by philosopher Bertrand Russell, who devoted a chapter of his book ‘The Conquest of Happiness to the potential value of boredom. Imagination and capacity to cope with boredom must be learned as a child, he wrote: “A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.”

Teacher and student
summer boredom
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