Executive functions (EF) are high-level cognitive actions which are considered important for directing behaviours and self-regulation. EF are an umbrella term referring to the complex cognitive processes required when a response must be inhibited (stopped) or a specific behaviour must be initiated (started). These functions are also involved when generating questions, planning actions, judging a situation, making a decision, or updating and monitoring information. Poor executive functioning has been shown to be of central importance in disruptive behaviour disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and is a core component in poor academic achievement. So much of our human behaviour requires good executive functioning in order to run smoothly.
There are two major components of executive functioning.
Inhibition is the ability to control your automatic responses to a stimuli. Inhibition uses attention and reasoning and it is the primary core deficit in ADHD.
Working memory is comprised of multiple components involved in the storage of verbal and spatial information, as well as the processing of such information. These dual components of storage and processing are required, for instance, when performing multiple tasks simultaneously, or in tasks that involve several steps. Academic achievement has been found to be strongly related to working memory.
A delay or deficits in the development of EF at the age of 4 years old has correlation with the degree of social, emotional, and cognitive competence in adolescence (Howard, Okely, & Ellis, 2015). Issues with EF can also predict learning problems at entering school and drug abuse in adulthood (Diamond, Barnett, Thomas, & Munro, 2007). EF are a bigger predictor of school success than IQ.
At ChiLD we can assess for executive functioning using the Childhood Executive Functioning Inventory (CHEXI). We can also use The Wechsler Intelligence Test for Children - Fifth Edition (WISC-V) a cognitive ability measure known across the world. The WISC-V was developed for use with children between the ages of 6 and 16, and is used to obtain a comprehensive assessment of general intellectual functioning in the context of various types of evaluations. Specifically for EF we are looking at fluid reasoning index and the working memory index.
Howard, J. S., Okely, D. A., & Ellis, G. Y. (2015). Evaluation of a differentiation model of preschoolers’ executive functions. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 285-295.
Diamond, A., Barnett, W. S., Thomas, J., & Munro, S. (2007). Preschool program improves cognitive control. Science, 318, 1387-1388.