Executive Function Disorder: Treatment, Strategies, Symptoms, Causes

Executive Function Disorder or Executive Dysfunction, are terms that are solely associated with neuroscience and psychology. This refers to the disruption of the efficacy of a group of cognitive procedure, known as executive functions. These executive functions control, regulate and manage many other abilities, behaviors and cognitive processes. This is a difficulty that is common amongst students that make it quite problematic for them to initiate, complete and even tune to the class work and homework. However, Executive Functions Disorder is often overlooked as mere negligence, inattentiveness and deliberate ignorance of students.

Executive Function Disorder

Executive Function:

Executive functions are the cognitive abilities that control and regulate goal-directed behavior and abilities. These cognitive abilities include changing and monitoring behaviors as per need and situation, initiating and stopping actions and also planning future behaviors. This anticipation and adaptation to situations is controlled by executive function. Concept forming and abstract thinking are also components of this cognitive functional ability.

Definition of Executive Function Disorder:

When the executive functions relating to behavioral and cognitive decisions stop working properly, it is known as Executive Functions Disorder.

Symptoms and Problems Associated with Executive Function Disorder:

Executive Function Disorder is a condition that affects too many skills in the individual or the child found with this disorder. Most of the time, a child with Executive Function Disorder will suffer from impulse control difficulties, troubles in controlling emotion, difficulty in maintaining a good memory, problem in planning, initiating and continuing work along with completing them. To be more specific, the signs and symptoms that your child will have, if he/she has Executive Function Disorder are:

  • Difficulty in making plans
  • Trouble in or being unable to keep track of time
  • Unable to solve problems, even with previously learned information
  • Problems in understanding the need for help
  • Unable to apply information or seek more information when needed
  • Difficulty in analyzing ideas
  • Setting or identifying goals
  • Trouble in starting or stopping works, coping with its pace and adjusting with production rate
  • Problem in multitasking and shifting from one work to another
  • Be disorganized and disoriented most of the time
  • Create and work with an unrealistic schedule
  • Choose short term and small rewards over long term and large rewards
  • Leaves most tasks halfway, unfinished
  • Trouble in decision making
  • A train of thought that goes on in their mind and gets lost if interrupted.

One of the most crucial aspects of Executive Function Disorder is that the symptoms change along with time, since the brain also develops and changes. Hence, it is very important that you consult with a professional for an early intervention, if any of these signs and symptoms is noted by you, to be occurring in your child. Although, it will certainly be upsetting and depressing that all of these signs are present in your child, but it is certainly a possibility.

Causes of Executive Function Disorder:

Why children have Executive Function Disorder is an issue that is still not clear to the scientists. However, what might contribute into the possibilities are –

  1. Executive Functions Disorder Caused due to Brain Differences: The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that mostly controls the executive functions. Those, who have injuries, diseases or even other disorders in this part of the brain, may have problems with executive functioning. Studies are yet to prove that the prefrontal cortex in children with Executive Functions Disorder work differently than those who do not have this disorder.
  2. Executive Functions Disorder Caused due to Genes and Heredity: Genes and heredity control the performance of a child in using their executive skills in executive functions. Hence, heredity can be a cause that your child has Executive Function Disorder in him or her, if someone else in the family has had that.
  3. Other Diseases and Disorders as a Cause for Executive Function Disorder: When the child suffers from other diseases and disorders, mostly mood disorders, neurological conditions, acquired brain injury and autism, there is a high chance that the Executive Function Disorder will also be present in the individual.


Most of the time, the children with the Executive Functions Disorder, is seen to suffer from some other health issues, disorders and diseases. Exclusive presence of this disorder, without the influence of any other health issue is unusual. Sometimes, Executive Function Disorder is misdiagnosed, marked by some other disease and sometimes not diagnosed at all. The other disorders that are found to be present along with this disorder are –

  1. ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: One of the most common childhood brain-based disorders, ADHD is found in most people, who have Executive Function Disorder. In this condition, impulse control, activity levels and attention are all affected. This affects the child in learning and in studies. Learning issues and disorders are also similar troubles that Executive Function Disorder has symptoms.
  2. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Most of the executive functions such as learning and memory are affected in children, who are exposed to alcohol before birth. FAS have Executive Function Disorder as a major sign of this medical condition.
  3. Cancer Treatment: When radiation therapy or chemotherapy is used in children to treat their leukemia and brain tumors, Executive Function Disorder becomes prominent and a major sign.

Treatments for Executive Function Disorder:

Some behavioral approaches and educational strategies can effectively help the children with Executive Function Disorder. These can help the children to work around their weaknesses and overcome their difficulties. The therapies and treatments for Executive Function Disorder include:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Treat Executive Function Disorder:

    Psychologists and professionals will help the children with different kinds of CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy. Although CBT is an extensive therapy that is used to treat many patients and individuals with different disorders and mental issues, this disorder has its own set of therapies to help the children with their problems. These generally include reading therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and many more. Children suffering from Executive Function Disorder are also provided with some tools that help them to self-monitor their behavior and thoughts. They are also supported with understanding and learning the proper ways to respond to social situations.

  2. Response to Intervention Program:

    When the child lags behind in educational spheres, some schools accommodate them and provide them special intervention programs that help the students to cope with their studies. If they fail to grasp this special instruction given in small groups, they are also given one-on-one instruction.

    Support and therapies are the only ways to treat Executive Function Disorder. If it is associated with some other disease or disorder, it is important to treat them at first and then switch to treating Executive Function Disorder.

Strategies to Help Cope with Executive Function Disorder:

Along with the therapies, the child must also get help and support from the friends, families and teachers to cope with Executive Function Disorder. It is certainly upsetting and difficult to accept this fact that your child is not being able to cope with his or her studies in school and do any other executive function. Teachers must understand that the child has difficulties in coping with regular schedule and may lag or stay advanced in works. At home, the parents must provide some supportive cares such as:

  • Making checklists for every single task including checklists for what to do at school and at home, as well as how to do them. This will help the child with Executive Function Disorder to remember what they are supposed to do when they forget or be distracted.
  • Using a planner or a calendar for your child suffering from Executive Function Disorder will also be useful for him or her to keep a track of what they are supposed to do. You can also choose to use a big family calendar or planner to include the tasks of every other member in the family and make your child with this disorder feel one with others and not secluded. It will boost their spirit.
  • Set time for the child with Executive Function Disorder to start and complete every task, which will help them understand how to cope with time management.
  • It is not always necessary that the method of doing a task by your child has to be wrong. Listening to him or her about why he/she has chosen this method is important. It is not necessary that their way of doing a task has to make sense to you or be the same with your method. If they successfully come up with some innovative methods, it will be better for them and you too.

With proper care and therapies, the child with Executive Function Disorder will get to overcome most of their difficulties. Staying positive and meeting with parents of children with Executive Function Disorder will help you to know that you are not alone. When you provide behavioral therapy for your child, you must also choose a parenting coaching and strategic planning for yourself, so that you can guide them better.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 8, 2019

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