What is executive functioning?
Executive functions are skills performed by our brain that help us to control and manage our thoughts and actions. Having the skills to organise and plan, shift attention, be flexible with thinking and self-regulate can all have an impact on how a young person copes with daily tasks. Evidence shows that individuals on the autism spectrum may have difficulties with some or all areas of executive functioning.
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Executive Functioning strategies
- Use a classroom schedule to outline the day and prepare students for what’s coming next
- Use an activity schedule to break down a block of time into smaller chunks showing the order of activities
- Use a calendar to determine when each smaller assignment will need to be finished, and place the smaller benchmark goals on the calendar
- Break down big projects into smaller pieces with more deadlines
Meta-cognition – Thinking about our own thinking
- Use meta-cognitive language to articulate the challenge eg “I see that you are missing a pencil. You will need a pencil to complete the assignment. Where could you find one in the classroom?”
- Display steps or questions that students could ask themselves in the classroom to promote independence with a skill
- Have students repeat directions to a partner and then have a volunteer repeat the direction for the whole class
- Break tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps so that the child can follow multi-step instructions
- Focus on one task at a time
- Tease out the micro-tasks to help the child break the assignment down into manageable parts
- Generate and write down major ideas
- Use memory games or apps or use memory-based team-building games that require students to remember something as part of a classroom activity
- Provide checklists to be able to find important items on a regular basis
- Use a calendar to mark off important events
- Provide folders and a basket of supplies to keep the student’s desk organised
- Help the student create a daily to-do list to track assignments
- Provide an extra set of books for the student to keep at home
- Use motor movement tasks that require a child to pause, wait and then respond may teach self-control skills
- Provide student with a “Wait 5” strategy–counting to five before verbally responding to an input in the classroom, and a “Wait 3” in personal conversations to think before speaking in pairs or groups
- Help students see the relationship between thoughts and feelings
- Create weekly journal prompts that require students to practice seeing things from multiple perspectives
- Create daily prompts of various tasks to complete
- Have students brainstorm different “starting points” for tasks
- Provide visual prompts at different times of an activity to support the child to complete the task
- Provide opportunities for a child to revisit the task as required to encourage engagement
- Check in frequently to make sure the student understands the work
- Provide a rubric that describes the elements of a successful assignment
- Give notice (when possible) about schedule changes
- Highlight key words and ideas on worksheets
- Provide the child with a 'First – Then' card
- Use a visual prompt to move the child from a preferred to a non-preferred activity
- Provide a child with headphones when the classroom is noisy
- Provide coloured strips to place under sentences or equations when reading
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Zelazo, P. D., Blair, C. B., & Willoughby, M. T. (2016). Executive Function: Implications for Education. NCER 2017-2000. National Center for Education Research.