What is Executive Function?

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For many students with HH, starting a new school year can be very stressful. For many parents and caregivers, it can mean the drama associated with IEP meetings, 504 Plans, and dealing with new teachers – begins all over again.

For many students, of all ages, with HH – one of the greatest challenges in a school setting is managing what is known as the Executive Functions. What is executive functioning? The term executive function describes a set of cognitive abilities that control and regulate other abilities and behaviors. Executive functions are necessary for goal-directed behavior. They include the ability to initiate and stop actions, to monitor and change behavior as needed, and to plan future behavior when faced with novel tasks and situations. Executive functions allow us to anticipate outcomes and adapt to changing situations.


For many parents of kids with HH, the conversation is often centered around a poorly understood medical condition.  However, when it comes to executive dys-function, the condition is not the question. The question should be, how will we deal with some very common cognitive issues for individuals with brain disorders like HH  (ie ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, etc).

Executive Functions include the ability to:

  • Set goals independently
  • Plan, organize, initiate, sequence, and monitor one’s behavior
  • Develop and implement effective strategies for problem-solving or task completion
  • Inhibit impulsive responses and regulate emotional responses
  • Keep track of information in working memory
  • Coordinate complex tasks by maintaining attention, sequencing tasks, and organizing materials, physical space, thoughts and language
  • Efficiently retrieve stored information from memory when needed
  • Think in a flexible manner (cognitive flexibility)
  • Make judgments about the amount of time and effort needed for a task

How might this show up in the classroom?

  • Student completes work but “forgets” to hand it in
  • Has difficulty transitioning from one task to another
  • Can’t seem to keep track of directions, possessions, and assignments
  • Needs more external support and reminders than peers
  • Doesn’t seem to catch “careless” errors
  • Is very inconsistent in daily performance
  • Has no concept of time required to complete a task
  • “Forgets” multi-step instructions shortly after given
  • May not generalize lessons learned from one task or situation to another

A student who feels frustrated and incompetent academically, socially and emotionally because of executive functioning deficits is an individual at risk to give up on education, follow a negative peer group, or become depressed and anxious.

Fortunately, there are accommodations and strategies that can support students with weak executive skills. Included below are some excellent support resources to help make the new school year a little less stressful for all concerned.

From the Hope for HH website:


For Educators:


What accommodations have you used personally or for your child that have helped to be successful in the school environment? Has it been difficult to explain to teachers exactly how you/your child learns best? Please share your resources and we will include them on the website for others!