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Executive Functioning Skills

Executive Functioning skills are a set of skills that allow us to manage the tasks that we complete everyday. We draw upon these skills to manage emotions and thoughts so that we can be efficient, regulate behaviour when difficulties arise, they assist in our ability to function with independence and include:

  • Emotional Control

  • Task Initiation

  • Working Memory

  • Planning

  • Prioritising

  • Organisation

  • Impulse Control

  • Problem Solving

  • Persistence

  • Attention

One model of thinking, when referring to Executive Functioning skills, is that there are two aspects - thinking skills and doing skills.




Response Inhibition


Emotional Control

Time Management

Sustained Attention

Working Memory

Task Initiation

Metacognition (the awareness of one's own thought process)


What can Executive Dysfunction look like?

Children experiencing challenges with executive functioning may:

  • Have difficulty with math and word problems

  • Struggle with working memory for reading comprehension

  • Struggle to follow directions and frequently derail throughout the day

  • Have decreased self-regulation impacting on social, emotional and academic abilities.

Developmental milestones of Executive Function

Milestones are what 75% of children within that age group can do, early in development we would expect:

By 2 years of age

  • Working memory: remember a toy hidden under a blanket

  • Inhibit unsafe or inappropriate behaviour

Later on in development we would expect:

By 12-14 years of age

  • Appropriately use a system for organising school work

  • Independently follow complex school schedule involving multiple transitions with teachers and classrooms

  • Can use working memory to remember main points of lecture while taking notes

  • Plan and carry out long term projects, including tasks to be accomplished and a reasonable timeline to follow

Executive Functioning does not mature until approximately 25 years old!

How can OT's help to develop a child's Executive Functioning skills?

Occupational Therapists are well equipped to evaluate executive functioning skills and work on areas to target these skills, in a play based manner of course! OT's can work on:

  • Self regulation: Focusing attention, filtering distractions, controlling impulses, coping and calming skills

  • Problem solving: Goal setting, making a plan and considering possible scenarios, sequencing steps and following directions. Organisation, evaluating self-performance and achieving a goal

  • Multi-tasking: Prioritising, remembering and working with multiple pieces of information

  • Flexible thinking: Switching to a task, and considering new ideas or strategies, making choices and decisions.

Strategies an Occupational Therapist might use to foster the development of Executive Functioning skills

  • Visual Strategies: using images or social stories to help develop organisation skills. E.g. routine charts, visual schedules, placement and organisation of commonly used materials in accessbile areas

  • Breaking things down: breaking down tasks into manageable parts to help with task initiation and planning

  • Memory and Matching games to promote working memory

  • Use of visual timers and checklists to assist with time management, planning and prioritising

  • Implementing self-regulation strategies through movement breaks, sensory strategies, and transition activities to promote focus.

Think your child might be having difficulty developing and demonstrating their executive functioning skills? Contact us to day to discuss how your Occupational Therapist can be of help!

South West: (08) 9791 7898

Broome: 0477 190 111


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