Executive Functioning Skills

Executive Functioning Skills

What are Executive Functioning Skills?

To define the nine specific executive functioning skills, we must first define executive functioning. Executive functioning is a particular set of skills that people use daily in order to navigate everyday life. Difficulty with executive functioning can make things like organization, planning, focus, emotional regulation, and task completion difficult, making it hard to function in the workplace, at school, at home, or anywhere else during daily life. In many cases, if these difficulties are very severe, they may be diagnosed as an executive functioning disorder. The nine key executive functions are inhibition (impulse control), self-monitor, shift, emotional control (flexible thinking), initiation, working memory, planning and prioritizing, task-monitoring, and organization of materials.

Inhibit/Impulse Control

Inhibit assesses one’s ability to control impulses and stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time. Impulse control refers to the ability to control one's actions. Impulsive behavior is acting or speaking without thinking. Impulse control allows you to think before acting. In children, a lack of impulse control will exhibit as engaging in dangerous or risky behavior, or blurting out comments that are inappropriate, or at the wrong time.


Self-Monitoring assesses one’s interpersonal awareness. It is the ability to be aware of how one’s behavior affects or bothers others and an understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. It refers to the ability to manage, observe, and regulate one’s behavior. Children who struggle with self-monitoring may not always be aware of their behavior, and may be surprised when they are reprimanded or when they don’t do well on an assignment in school.


Shift assesses one’s ability to move freely from one situation, activity, or aspect of a task or problem. Key aspects of shifting include making transitions, tolerating change, problem solving, flexibility, switching attention between tasks, and changing from one mindset or topic to another.

Emotional Control/Flexible Thinking

Emotional Control assesses the impact of executive functioning on one’s ability to control their emotional responses. It refers to the ability to regulate feelings and emotions. In children, a lack of emotional control will look like overreacting in many scenarios, where the size of the problem is not consistent with the size of the reaction. One will have trouble dealing with their emotions when something goes wrong or is unexpected, and will struggle more than the average child.
Flexible thinking is a type of thinking that allows one to adjust to surprise situations or new information. A child who has difficulty with flexible thinking will struggle with new information, or with information that is presented in a new or different way.


Initiation assesses an individual’s ability to begin a task or activity, as well as, generating ideas, responses and problem solving strategies. Task initiation refers to the ability to be able to take action and get started on a task. Children who have difficulty with task initiation may fail to start on a project or assignment because they do not know where to start.

Working Memory

Working memory assesses one’s capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task, encoding information, generating goals, plans, and sequential steps to achieve goals. Working memory is essential to carry out multi-step activities and complex instructions. It also refers to the ability to retain information in the short term. Children who have difficulty with working memory will often have trouble keeping track of information presented to them, which will often present as a difficulty following directions.

Plan, Organize, and Prioritize

Plan/Organize scale assesses one’s ability to manage current and future oriented task demands. It refers to skills necessary to plan, prioritize, and execute a plan. Children who have poor planning and prioritizing skills may struggle getting started on a project, or figuring out how to prioritize the most important steps of a project or assignment. They either miss the big picture or miss the details.


Task-monitor scale assesses one’s ability to stay on task, perform task in a timely manner, and check work for mistakes and completion.

Organization of Materials

Organization of Materials assesses one’s ability to maintain orderliness of work and personal items. Organization refers to the ability to keep track of things. This ability affects children both mentally and physically. For example, mental organization is needed to maintain focus, and physical organization is necessary for keeping track of belongings and not losing things.

Treatment for Executive Functioning Disorder

Children, young adults, and some adults in general who struggle with one or more of these key executive functioning skills may have an executive functioning disorder. Executive functioning disorders may affect any combination of the skills listed above, causing an overall difficulty in daily functioning. If your child is struggling in school, talk with their teacher to learn more about their behavior and to see if they are exhibiting any of the signs of an executive functioning disorder. Treatment can vary depending on the specific case, but generally they include occupational therapy evaluation and treatment, psychotherapy, and/or medication. You should consult with a healthcare professional before choosing any course of action. Learn more about executive functioning disorders.

Therapy with Mind & Motion

Mind & Motion offers therapy for executive functioning disorder.. If you believe your child, young adult, or yourself are dealing with an executive functioning disorder, the first step is to get a clear evaluation and diagnosis. Our team of experienced therapists can provide you with a clear understanding of your child’s issues, and will work with you to help design a treatment plan that will get them back on track and feeling better. Contact us today to learn more.