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Dr. Hallowell's Blog

Executive Functions: The Key to Personal and Academic Success

By Christina Young, M.S.Ed, LPC, Director of Student Life at Riverdale Country School and ADHD Coach at Hallowell Center NYC

Executive functions is an umbrella term for a set of skills necessary for both academic achievement and personal wellbeing. Key executive function skills for young learners include: organization, prioritization, activation, personal and academic reflection, and emotional regulation and modulation — or as I like to call it — balance.

The prefrontal cortex is the region of the brain that primarily controls executive functions, and cognitive science shows us that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until age 25. So we can expect that all young learners need support to develop these skills. But the challenges are exacerbated for those with ADHD.

Many, but not all, ADHD symptoms are connected to significant challenges with executive functions and working memory. They are intrinsically connected, because executive function skills can prevent young learners from overloading their working memory and forgetting essential information. The good news is that executive function skills can be taught. They help learners with ADHD tap into their “Ferrari brains,” to quote Dr. Hallowell’s metaphor of ADHD as a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes. The ability to take in information from multiple sources and connect the dots, or synthesize it, can be a true gift. Executive functions are the finely tuned brakes that allow that to happen.

I wrote Executive Functions at Home and School based on my 15 years of experience as a school counselor, learning specialist, and ADHD coach at Hallowell Center. I wanted to consolidate in one easy-to-read book: vignettes that parents and teachers can relate to and recommendations for how to respond, essential knowledge from current cognitive science, and real-life strategies that I have seen support young learners both at home and at school. I wanted to clearly connect executive function skills to active study strategies and effective effort, and show the impact of social-emotional learning on both academic and personal success. I’ve seen this combination of skill-building and background knowledge have a positive impact on many young learners, and I’m excited to share it with more parents and teachers.

Join Christina Young for a discussion of her book: Executive Functions at Home and School: Six Skills Young Learners Need to Succeed at Hallowell Center NYC on March 13 at 6:30pm.  Register here.

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