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Executive Function Definitions

Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, experts and researchers in ADHD, have identified 11 discrete executive functioning skills and offer their definitions:

  • Response Inhibition: is the capacity to think before you act – this ability to resist the urge to say or do something allows us the time to evaluate a situation and how our behavior might impact it.

  • Working Memory: The ability to hold information in memory while performing complex tasks. It involves the ability to draw on past learning or experience to apply to the situation at hand or to project into the future. For example, Math requires remembering steps and orders of operation, and facts in order to solve a problem.

  • Emotional Control: The ability to manage emotions in order to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct behavior.

  • Flexibility: The ability to change or revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information or mistakes.  It relates to an adaptability to changing conditions or situations.

  • Sustained Attention: The capacity to maintain attention to a situation or task in spite of distractibility, fatigue, or boredom.

  • Task Initiation: The ability to begin projects without undue procrastination, in an efficient or timely fashion.

  • Planning/Prioritization:  The ability to create a roadmap to reach a goal or to complete a task. It also involves being able to make decisions about what’s important to focus on and what’s not important.

  • Organization: The ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials.

  • Time Management: The capacity to estimate how much time one has, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines. It also involves a sense that time is important.

  • Goal-directed persistence: The capacity to have a goal, follow through to the completion of the goal and not be put off or distracted by competing interests.

  • Metacognition: The ability to stand back and take a birds-eye view of oneself in a situation.  It is an ability to observe how you problem solve. It also includes self-monitoring and self-evaluative skills (e.g., asking yourself, “How am I doing? or How did I do?”).


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