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What is executive function?

Executive Functions refer to a set of brain-based skills that are essential for people to be flexible and organized, set goals, and make plans. People with executive function differences often can tell you what to do, but they can’t do it. As a result, they are often viewed as obstinate, lazy and difficult. However, this a real struggle and needs to be addressed and supported so that people with executive function differences can learn, grow and reach their potential. Executive functions are made up of a set of skills that include: 

  • Flexibility

  • Impulse control

  • Emotional control/regulation 

  • Initiation (getting started)

  • Working memory (holding something in mind as you are doing it)

  • Planning 

  • Organization

  • Self-monitoring (checking your work and your impact on others)

This animation introduces parents to what executive functions are and what problems with executive functioning look like. It introduces simple steps parents can take to help their children.

Este animación explica a padres que es el funcionamiento ejecutivo y como parecen problemas del funcionamiento ejecutivo. Presenta estrategias faciles que padres pueden usar para ayudar sus hijos.

Managing Executive function THE UNSTUCK Way


1.Accommodate, Then


People who are overwhelmed can’t learn. If you are drowning in a series of demands that you can’t meet because of your brain differences, you are going to hunker down into protective mode. So the key is to first get people to a place where they can learn and then systematically teach and then fade supports.

2. Think Can’t not Won’t


  • Sometimes executive function challenges are hidden behind strong  language and intelligence, leading to “they can do it if they want to" criticisms.

  •  But no matter how smart you are, executive function challenges lead to:

    • overload

    • variable performance

    • frustration and low self esteem (internalized ableism)


We can all relate to this: think of your ability to start a major project at the end of a long day. Likely you will be less effective and the product will be less good than if you started fresh the next day. That is because executive functions are an exhaustible resource that can be easily overwhelmed by fatigue, overload, or anxiety.

can't, won't, teaching not scolding; adult helping child and adult scolding child
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