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Executive Function Therapy for Academic Success

The potential for Executive Function development begins during infancy, progresses throughout childhood and into adolescence, and peaks at approximately 24-30 years of age. These cognitive abilities are essential, as they provide the framework for our ability to form intentional, goal directed behavior in all aspects of our life (i.e., academic, social and emotional). Deficits in these skills are typically manifested in children when there is an increase in academic rigor and personal responsibilities. Frequently, this manifestation occurs with transitions into middle school, high school and/or college.

Recently, I received a phone call from a parent inquiring about Executive Function therapy for her daughter, a senior in high school. The mother had come across an article featured in the Answer Sheet section of the Washington Post titled, Why So Many Bright Kids Fail to Launch in College. She expressed concern that her daughter, who has been accepted into several competitive colleges, shared a number of the same characteristics with the student highlighted in the article. Mom and dad both acknowledged that they have been providing significant academic support for their daughter in the areas of organization, writing assignments and time management during both her junior and current senior year.

As students transition from high school to college, they must come equipped with a developed Executive Function skill set so as to effectively adapt to the changes within both their daily life and their academic realm. Specifically, they must learn to utilize unscheduled time and independence and adjust to a curriculum which now includes long term assignments, increased reading volume and linguistically complex oral and written material.

When these high school students lag behind in the development of their Executive Function skills, they are at risk for poor academic performance in college; and as referenced by the author of the article, MacLean Gander, this cohort of students is rapidly growing. The good news is that these students can be helped! Through a well designed intervention program, Speech Langauge Pathologists explicitly teach effective strategies which provide these students with the ability to successfully:

  • initiate action

  • maintain attention

  • organize their work and daily environment

  • plan oral and written assignments/projects

  • improve working memory

  • improve self-awareness

The key is to be proactive and initate therapy prior to these academic transitions. The attached Abridged Executive Function Skills Checklist (click here) gives you an opportunity to identify an inventory of your child's strengths and weaknesses specific to this skill set.

The complete checklist can be found in Adam Cox's book, No Mind Left Behind: Understanding and Fostering Executive Control - The Eight Essential Brain Skills Every Child Needs to Thrive; an excellent resource on Executive Function.

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