Executive “Dis”Function?

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For many individuals with HH, one of the most difficult challenges in day-to-day living involves something professionals call Executive Functioning skills.

Executive Function skills serve as the Command and Control center in the brain – they help you manage life tasks of all types.


Does this sound familiar – you or your child may struggle with:

  • Organizing, setting priorities and starting tasks
  • Focusing, shifting or sustaining attention and thinking flexibility
  • Regulating alertness and staying on task
  • Managing frustration and keeping emotions in check
  • Using working memory and recalling information
  • Self-monitoring and controlling impulses

Organizational Mind Map

Executive Function, or perhaps better called Executive “Dis”-Function, is very real for many with HH. Some individuals have been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, or Autistic Spectrum Behaviors. For some, the diagnosis may be confused with challenges in Executive Functioning. For others it may be a combination of many challenging behaviors.

How might this dis-function show up everyday? Individuals say things like:

  • I act on impulse
  • I say things without warning
  • I have a short fuse – am easily frustrated
  • I get upset when things don’t go as planned
  • I am easily distracted
  • I can get focused on one thing to the exclusion of all else
  • I am constantly losing things – even those that are important to me
  • I have a hard time coming up with alternate solutions
  • I have problems sticking with a task/chore until it is done
  • I have challenges telling time and estimating the time it takes to complete a task
  • I prefer to live in the present
  • I take a lot of time to get ready for things (appointments, school, work,)
  • I have a hard time setting priorities when I have lots of things to do
  • I become overwhelmed by long-term projects or big assignments


Any or all of these things sound familiar in your home? These challenges can affect both school age children and adults with HH. It usually isn’t something you grow out of but rather learn to manage. It has been proven that stress just makes the situation worse and the weakest skills will fail first. For many, it is just identifying what the issues really are and then developing coping strategies, as well as putting plans and routines in place that will work for them.

The good news is that there are reliable methods of evaluation that can help determine which Executive Functions are most impacted. With that assessment in hand, you can work on one behavior or skill at a time to empower yourself and/or your child to develop the necessary strategies and implement them.

Many schools are not prepared to do this type of evaluation, and for adults as well, it is recommended that you seek out a psychologist or trained executive coach to help with the process.

Setting reasonable expectations is always important! Setting the bar too high can be just as bad as too low! Just knowing the information doesn’t mean everyone can change the behavior. Supporting individuals with these challenges can be difficult on the family, as well. The idea is to do it with them and not for them. They have to learn how to embrace and use the tools they learn for a lifetime. For transitioning young adults, it is important that they understand how and why the skills they learn work for them so they can advocate for themselves in high school, college and in the workplace as well.

Fortunately there are some excellent resources to help you get started on the journey of understanding Executive Function. I have read the following and would highly recommend them as a great starting point for your research.


Presentation on Executive Function:

The Road Trip without a Map: Parenting and Teaching Disorganized Student



Cooper-Kahn, J. & L. Dietzel (2008). Late, Lost & Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.

Dawson, P. & R. Guare (2009). Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping kids Reach Their Potential. New York, NY: Guilford.


Other possible resources:

Working Memory Software – www.cogmed.com


Executive Coaches (I have not personally used but were recommended by an expert):





The benefits of strengthening Executive Function skills cannot be understated. However, there is no “one size fits all” approach. We would love to hear what is working for you and any other resources you are using to empower and encourage you or your child!!