Written By: Samantha Walker, M.A., CF-SLP
Executive functioning is at the core of everything we do: planning/plan execution, organization, creating goals, attention, and task initiation just to name a few.
Take ordering pizzas for example. Planning what you will order is probably step one, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. You’ll probably need to gather some sort of list of everyone’s pizza topping preferences, then decide on the appropriate sizes of each pizza based on how many people there are. What size do we get if we have two kids who will only eat a bite of crust and two teenagers coming home from football camp?
Commence sub-plan #1: small, medium, or large? Commence sub-plan #2: which sizes for which flavors? Commence sub-plan #3: appetizers, drinks, desserts? You get the idea…
Not only does this require creating a plan, it requires organizing and making decisions followed by executing the plan you’ve created. All while shifting and sustaining attention to focus on the appropriate pieces of the puzzle that is pizza. For people with executive functioning deficits, initiating a task can be tough. They can often be wondering, “Where do I start?”. If initiating a task is step one, the rest of the plan will fall through and you’re left with an individual who is overwhelmed and without pizza.
How Does Executive Functioning & Language Relate?
Our brain has the unique function of initiating language or inhibiting language. In a child with executive functioning difficulties, this might not be such a streamlined process. Blurting out in class is a classic example of language being initiated but not inhibited. Our ability to plan communication, based on the context we’re in, is crucial to how we interact with others on a day-to-day basis. For example, initiating a conversation at the lunch table can be much different than one in the classroom.
Language is a two-way street, meaning not only do we create and produce language, but we also absorb language receptively. Receptive language entails comprehending and processing what is spoken to you such as following directions and asking questions. Receptive language requires executive functioning skills to sustain attention, organize language, create plans based on that language, etc.
As a result, children struggling with executive functioning might have a hard time figuring out where to start. If you find your child consistently having trouble following directions and completing tasks, there might be an executive functioning component that is missing.
Bridging The Gap With Task Breakdown
One of the most helpful things you can do for a child with executive functioning difficulties is to take a task and break it down into manageable parts. We live in an age of Chat GPT, AI, and all sorts of fancy technology at our fingertips. Our long-term goal is for each child to be able to independently plan and execute tasks, however, using technology as a learning tool is a great option. One of these technologies does just that: task breakdown.
Behold, the “Magic To-Do List”. This website allows you to enter a task in the search bar and it will break it down into a to-do list to complete it. If you enter a task such as “clean my room”, it will give you a breakdown of the steps you need to do to get it done.
Furthermore, you can have the system give you a time estimate of how long it will take for that specific component to complete (time management, anyone?). You can even adjust the settings to how broken down you’d like a task to be or its “spice” level.
The “level of spice” allows you to adjust how broken down you’d like the task!
Press the “magic wand” button and watch your task unfold!
The “time estimate” button will give you an estimated amount of time for task completion. You can also add sub-tasks!
This technology is a fantastic resource that you can use for a myriad of things in the classroom or at home! Play around with the magic wand button. Enter various tasks to see how the tool breaks them down into parts, it can help make big tasks seem less daunting and give kiddos a starting point.
Happy “to-do listing”!
Get Support with Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center!
If you think your child is struggling with initiating tasks, following a plan, maintaining attention, or any other difficulties regarding executive functioning, reach out to Enrichment Therapy and Learning Center today! A speech therapy and learning center located near the Des Moines metro area and Iowa City; Enrichment Therapy and Learning Center specializes in helping kids achieve effective communication and gain academic success. Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.
740 Community Drive, Unit A
North Liberty, IA 52317
5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300
Johnston, IA 50131