03/08/2021 by Jessica Szklut. Hi, I am an occupational therapist at South Shore Therapies. I specialize in pediatirc brain injury and stroke, but love working with all families to help kids reach their optimal potential. Our mission with SST's social media platform is to empower, educate and inspire families to take on life’s challenges while promoting an optimistic outlook and a brighter future. If you want to read more about us, visit www.southshoretherapies.com 0 Comments
Executive Functioning in Kids: Here’s How We Can Help (From Your Occupational Therapist)
Executive function is a set of mental skills that our kids use every day to actively engage in daily like skills, learn, and play. Executive function is responsible for your child’s ability to sustain attention, organize and plan, initiate and complete, problem solve, and regulate emotions. There are many different ways to address breakdowns with executive functioning skills. Your therapy team works together to address ‘the whole child’ so they can perform at their best. Check out some ways in which occupational therapy can focus on improving your child’s executive functioning skills.
Think of executive function as the CEO of the brain, controlling all the skills required to plan, execute, and complete tasks and projects. These skills can be divided into the broad areas of working memory, flexible thinking, and inhibitory control. When executive function is impaired, children may display difficulty with initiating tasks, memory, organization, planning, time management, emotional control, understanding the perspectives of others, and paying attention.
Many kids tend to be disorganized and distracted at times, but those who are struggling with executive function may take a very long time to get dressed, pack a bag for school, and perform simple chores. Executive function disorder is common among children who are diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
5 ways occupational therapy Addresses executive functioning skills:
1. Motor planning/sequencing:
- Motor planning – or praxis - refers to the ability to ideate, plan, and execute a novel motor action/sequence while simultaneously making the necessary adjustments for safety and efficiency. We use motor planning for all physical activities – everything from every day tasks like brushing teeth or hand washing, to moving around your environment or playing with peers. Kids who struggle with motor planning often take longer to learn new tasks, have difficulties sequencing and completing everyday tasks, and often are unable to recall from previous experiences in order to execute a task more effectively.
- How does OT address motor planning deficits? Well through play! Providing a multisensory environment that encourages a child to engage with a variety of equipment/activities in novel ways helps foundationally allow the child to build praxis skills. Through play we promote development of initiation and refinement of sequencing skills and with repetition can encourage motor tasks to become more automatic for the child. We love to make obstacle courses and other movement challenges with multi-steps, engaging in multistep crafts/art projects, learning new games, and cooking/baking activities.
- Learn more about motor planning HERE:
2. Problem Solving:
- A natural adaptive skill we often take for granted is our ability to draw from past experiences, in combination with our assessment of current situation, in order to determine the best way to approach a task in order to be successful - this is called problem solving. The age old quote “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again” is great for those children whom have foundational motor planning and problem solving skills, but can be quite difficult for kids with breakdowns in these areas - because for these kids, trying again will result in the same failure over and over unless due to difficulties with feedforward and feedback needed to problem solve and adapt their approach.
- How can OT assist with development of problem solving skills? Using the suspension equipment and various swings allows your kids to naturally find themselves in situations where problem solving is required- how do I climb on this swing? How can I throw at this target without falling? Activities like the floor is lava is often a fan favorite – having your child setup equipment to get from point A to B without touching the floor. In addition, playing games and activities can also promote development of problem solving skills. Games like Rush Hour, Suduku, Tangrams are great ways to promote critical thinking, planning and problem solving. Using the just right challenge in a controlled environment allows us to teach your child how to objectively assess the situation, actually change their approach, and ultimately be successful with the task at hand. In turn, we can help promote and develop self esteem and confidence for your child to carry with them each and every day!
3. Emotional Regulation and Interception:
- We feel emotions – both negative and positive – every single day. It is important that children learn how to manage, express and cope with these emotions in a healthy way – this is called emotional regulation. Interception is a sense that provides information about the internal condition of our body – how our body is feeling on the inside - Awareness of these body sensations allow us to experience essential emotions – everything from hunger or pain to sadness or anger. However development of interception and foundational emotional regulation can be an area of challenge for many of our kids. Tantrums or meltdowns may be a common occurrence at home for kid with difficulties with emotional regulation.
- How can OT can help with emotional regulation? OT can help with your child’s ability to identify emotions, teach and support proper responses in situation of heightened emotions, help your child answer the question ‘how do I feel?” and most importantly teach strategies that your child can use to manage these emotions. Using programs like Zones of Regulation and The Alert Program take a cognitive approach to teaching emotional regulation. Role playing can help simulate and prepare for real time scenarios. And of course, using equipment, games and activities allow for opportunities to learn about different emotions, build interception and body awareness, and develop strategies to manage emotions.
- Organization is the thinking skills that helps you put things into order, find your stuff, , gather supplies to start a tasks and complete everyday tasks efficiently and effectively. Getting organized can help make life easier and help kids with learning and thinking. Does your child have a hard time remembering where they put their toys? Do they have a hard time finding things in their backpack? Does your child struggle to get ready in the morning? Does your child always push back when it comes to writing assignments? This can be as a result of disorganization.
- How can OT help with organization? We can help your child develop strategies, implement systems and create aides (visual schedules, check lists, etc) to promote independence and success across environments.
- Learn more about organization HERE:
- Working memory is a cognitive process that is important for reasoning and plays a direct role in decision making and behavior. Visual memory is the ability to remember or recall visual input – such as words or images. Deficits with memory can impact yourchild’s ability to sustain attention follow multistep directions, independently engage in daily life skills, and can impact reading and writing skills.
- How does OT address difficulties with memory? Through different games, visual perceptual activities and challenges. Choosing games such as Let's Go To The Market, Clue, Memory Match and other board games require working memory for success. Activities like Take a Picture with your Mind, Burgermania, or Pancake Pile Up promote development of visual perceptual and visual memory skills. Teaching strategies for improved memory and recall is another way OT can help your kids be more successful.
If your child is showing signs of executive function disorder, we are here to help.
Remember, just because your child may be struggling it does not mean they are incapable of accomplishing anything they put their mind. Through education, practice, and strategies, you can support your child to meet their optimal potential.
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