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Archive for August 10th, 2008

“Executive Functions”

On August 10, 2008 in Articles

Executive Function…

“What is this anyway?”

Executive functions are crucial for

“Success at School”!

Parents and teachers are often baffled when students with attention deficits, including those who are intellectually gifted, teeter on the brink of school failure. Recently researchers may have solved part of this challenging puzzle; deficits in critical cognitive skills, known as executive function, may interfere with a student’s ability to succeed in school. Practically speaking, executive function is important in several areas:

Although scientists have not yet agreed on the exact elements of executive function, two leading researchers on Attention Deficit Disorder, Dr. Russell Barkley and Dr. Tom Brown, have given us insightful working descriptions. Dr. Barkley describes executive function as those “actions we perform to ourselves and direct at ourselves so as to accomplish self-control, goal-directed behaviour, and the maximization of future outcomes.” Through use of a metaphor, Dr. Brown gives us a helpful visual image by comparing executive function to the conductor’s role in an orchestra. The conductor organizes various instruments to begin playing singularly or in combination, integrates the music by bringing in and fading certain actions, and controls the pace and intensity of the music.

Executive functions are carried out by the frontal lobes of the brain.  The frontal lobes are the large portions of the brain cortex that lie, (Lay) near the front of the brain.  The Executive functions require complex and higher level brain processes.  Because of its complexity, the frontal cortex develops more slowly than other parts of the brain, many executive functions do not fully develop until adolescence.Frontal Lobe

“Although the impact of executive function deficits on school success is profound, this fact is often unrecognized by many parents and teachers. I learned the hard way with my own son that a high IQ score alone is not enough to make good grades. Early in my son’s academic career, I knew something was interfering with his ability to do well in school. But it wasn’t until Dr. Barkley identified the central role executive function plays in school success, that I finally understood why school was so difficult for him.”1

To further complicate matters, other serious conditions may co-occur with ADD and ADHD. According to the recent landmark National Institute of Mental Health MTA study on ADHD, two thirds of children with ADHD have at least one other coexisting problem, such as depression or anxiety. Accommodating students with complex cases of attention deficit disorder is critical! These children are at greater risk than their peers for a multitude of school problems, for example, failing a grade, skipping school, suspension, expulsion, and sometimes, dropping out of school and not going to college.

A summary of the landmark NIMH study is available from; at the website click “Past Issues” December 1999.

5 Components of Executive Functions

School Success Strategies


1.  Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S.  “5 Components of Executive Function” and A Bird’s-Eye View of Life with ADD and ADHD.  Published in CHADD’s ATTENTION Magazine, February 2002.