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The Importance of Focusing on Executive Functioning Skills

At a Glance

In this post, we want to talk about why we think it’s so important to actively teach and build up executive functioning skills. 

Executive functioning skills can sometimes get lumped into the realm of general “behavioral” goals because both can feel like they fall under the general category of discipline.

We want to share some reasons why you may find it to be worth your time or justifiable to prioritize as a part of learning and skill development. 

In part 4 of our series on executive functioning, we want to take a little bit of time to talk about why we think it’s so important to actively teach and build up executive functioning skills. 


Executive functioning skills can sometimes get lumped into the realm of general “behavioral” goals because both can feel like they fall under the general category of discipline. 


But whereas teaching certain “behaviors” like sitting still or keeping quiet are oftentimes more beneficial to the teacher than the student, executive functioning skills are a crucial component of independent living, the practice of which can be incredibly beneficial.


If you are interested in building up your own executive functioning skills or justifying a greater emphasis on those skills in the classroom, we want to share some reasons why you may find it to be worth your time or justifiable to prioritize as a part of learning and skill development. So let’s get started on doing exactly that!


Because this article places some emphasis on justifying more focus on EF skills in the classroom there will be a considerable amount of student-focused language in this post. 


That being said, individuals who want to build up their own EF skills may find some motivation here as well, in addition to some possible ideas for which skills to work on if they want to address a specific type of EF challenge in their lives.

Students manage more responsibilities as they grow older by using their EF skills.

One crucial reason to be conscious about building up EF skills over time is that regardless of whether students have the opportunity to practice those skills, their responsibilities will continue to grow. 


EF skills are some of our best tools for managing an increasing number of responsibilities, and when our skills don’t match our EF needs those problems can continue to compound.


Conscious practice of EF skills should also be about checking in and ensuring that you or your students feel confident in the tools that you or they have to manage your day-to-day tasks, and thinking about which skills might help address challenges related to workload.


Executive functioning skills like organization, task initiation, time management, working memory, and scheduling can all make a huge difference in turning a growing number of tasks into a functional routine!

EF challenges get more complex as students grow older.

In addition to the number of responsibilities students face as they get older, they will also be expected to manage more complex tasks and begin to identify and work toward longer-term goals. 


Whether you or your students begin to develop specific career aspirations, independent living goals, or interest in a particular subject area, it is EF skills that will help them to create plans to achieve those goals, execute those plans on schedule, and check in to see how they feel about their progress. 


EF skills can also help students adjust when things are not going according to plan, which becomes crucial as more complicated plans and tasks can lead to more complicated messes when things go awry.


EF skills like planning, adaptable thinking, self-monitoring, and metacognition are all hugely valuable in managing the increasing complexity of our day to day lives to help the increasing complexity serve to enrich us rather than weigh us down.

Strong EF skills are linked to postsecondary success.

If you read enough educational guidelines on the subject of preparing for postsecondary education, you’ll find that most emphasize the value of EF skills to postsecondary success. It’s no wonder - not only do college students continue to face more numerous and complex day to day challenges, many of them also lose some of the safety nets that would be there in other educational settings. 


When a student falls behind in college, it’s all too easy for those problems to spiral well out of control before anyone takes notice. 


College students can practice their EF skills too, but that is not necessarily an easy thing to do while simultaneously managing all of those new challenges!


That is one crucial reason why consciously and intentionally building up EF skills in high school can be so crucial to postsecondary success. 


Even as students continue to grow in their executive functioning, the ability to handle a baseline level of day-to-day work and expectations can make a huge difference in the ability to manage those problems that do become more complex or that the student in question might need to work on without the help of an instructor.

Students can apply their EF skills to their own lives however is most beneficial to them.

Perhaps our favorite reason for emphasizing and building up EF skills in yourself or in your students is that these skills are meant to apply to a huge variety of tasks, and fundamentally benefit the person learning them in whatever way they see most fit. 


While it’s not always possible for everything we learn in school to be so open-ended and flexible in its application, EF skills are so flexible that they can easily accompany many different types of educational tasks and ensure that the work we are doing builds up toward long term skills, even if we don’t always remember the specifics of the lesson. 


While your work on organization or planning might be in the context of a history lesson, students who become better planners can apply those skills to their hobbies, to their careers, and to building the futures they want for themselves.

Conclusion

Incorporating EF skills into lessons sometimes happens so naturally that we aren’t even specifically conscious of it, while other times it might feel like a challenge to incorporate EF skills into a lesson in a way that feels productive and timely. 


We hope this post has offered some compelling reasons to more consciously pick out those times when EF skills are being practices and to go the extra mile to incorporate more EF skillbuilding into a student’s day. 


If you have any strategies you’d like to share regarding building EF skills or reasons to work on EF that you find particularly important we would love to hear from you! 


Just drop us a line at hello@autismgrownup.com.


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