Identifying the Signs of Executive Function Disorder

Executive functions are mental skills used to organize, remember, and carry out tasks on schedule. If your child is having difficulty in these areas, it may be due to executive function disorder or something else.

The first things parents need to realize is that children with EFD can be exceptionally bright. Their brain simply works differently, preventing them from being organized and gaining information, or from being flexible enough to change behaviors when the conditions around them call for it.

Sending children with executive function disorder to a special needs private school in Irvington like John Cardinal O’Connor School early on can help the child outgrow EFD, but first it must be identified.

Identifying executive function disorder begins with observation. Many of the initial signs will take place at school. She may be forgetting to turn in homework or losing assignments, books, and other materials needed to complete homework. She could also have problems remembering information and seem either unwilling or unable to follow directions. Although these are signs of EFD, they can also be caused by learning disabilities or stress and anxiety brought on by other conditions or events.

Parents should take note of the specific areas in which the child is having difficulties at home. It is also helpful to talk with her teacher(s) to learn what types of organizational issues are occurring at school. There could be problems in every area or in a select few. If a child is losing things that she cares about at home, and not just homework, she is more likely to be having executive function issues than if the problems occur in a single area, such as an inability to complete math assignments.

A Day in the Life

A child with EFD can often get off to a rough start during the morning. Take Greg, for example.

Remembering to put everything he needs inside his backpack and getting to the bus stop in time to make it to school presents the same challenges to Greg each morning. Once at school, the class reads the next chapter of a book together so they can discuss it afterwards. Each student takes a turn at reading a paragraph out loud.

When they get to the end of the chapter and begin the discussion, Greg can’t remember any of the information needed to answer the teacher’s questions, because he was focusing on which chapter he would be reading, and not following along or focusing on what the other students read.

At lunch time, Greg takes his food tray to his favorite seat, only to find that someone else is already sitting in it. Any child might have the impulse to knock the other child out of his seat; but the child with EFD will act on the impulse, unable to control his actions.

Back at home, Greg sits down to dinner and begins to talk loudly about the new TV show he watched the night before. When someone else begins to talk, Greg just gets louder and ignores them. The rest of the family becomes increasingly frustrated and annoyed because they are unable to say anything.

After dinner, Greg is sent to his room to do his homework. He takes everything out of his backpack and realizes he has no idea what he is supposed to do for the following day. Seeing the book he has been given to read for a book report next week, he decides to start there.

After reading the first page, he decides to take a break and play a couple of games on his computer. It isn’t until his mother comes in to check on him that he gets back on track with his math work sheet. After getting the first row of problems worked, he decides to do the rest in the morning, although he often misses the bus even when he doesn’t have any extra work to do.

Testing for EFD

There is no single test for executive function disorder, but a series of tests can be used to measure the child’s skills in each area. EFD can occur in children with ADHD or learning disabilities. John Cardinal O’Connor School stands apart from other special education schools in Irvington by providing the individualized instruction each child needs to achieve their academic potential in spite of EFD and/or any learning disabilities that make learning difficult for any child.


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