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Executive Functioning and Speech-Language Therapy

Executive functioning is set of cognitive-based skills that help an individual plan, direct, and execute actions in their daily lives. Executive functioning skills require the ability to utilize working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, planning, and interference control. While the exact parameters of executive functioning are still undergoing research and characterization, the core areas listed above can be agreed upon by many researchers (Diamond, 2012). In regard to our daily activities, executive functioning skills assist with the ability to manage time, sustain attention to a task, switch focus, organize, recall details, plan responses/actions in social situations, and multitask throughout the day.

Research also indicates that individuals who present with co-morbid language impairments and executive function weaknesses, will often require direct remediation/intervention (Vissers et al., 2015). As a Speech-Language Pathologist, intervention for executive functioning skills focuses primarily around the language aspects of executive functioning. The development of executive function skills will play a fundamental role in the development of higher-level language skills. One area of higher-level area of executive functioning that pertains to language is referred to as metacognition. Metacognition is the ability to self-evaluate yourself in a situation to plan how you will problem-solve the situation at hand. Metacognition is a language-based skill as it requires the ability to problem-solve and process language to effectively monitor, plan, and execute actions. SLP’s often exercise their own metacognitive abilities during therapy as they work with a client adjusting and sequencing the therapy tasks and responding in a positive/affirming manner to elicit a response. SLP’s can provide treatment to develop and strengthen metacognitive abilities and assist with utilizing compensatory strategies such as using organizational systems, planners, apps, reminders, timers, etc. to promote success in activities of daily living.

Executive functioning skills are utilized by every individual on a daily basis. Those who experience delayed executive functioning skills will likely benefit from a strong intervention plan that will have a positive impact on their activities of daily living.  It is very likely that many SLP’s plan therapy tasks that require clients to rely upon their executive functioning skills. This is why it is important to be aware of a client’s strengths and weaknesses when planning therapy tasks to promote success in the therapy environment and generalization of skills across a variety of settings.

 

References:

Diamond A. (2012). Executive functions. Annual review of psychology, 64, 135-68.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4084861/

Vissers, C., Koolen, S., Hermans, D., Scheper, A., & Knoors, H. (2015). Executive functioning in preschoolers with specific language impairment. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 1574. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01574

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4611093/

 

Author:  Julianne Evelti Farlow, SLP