Today’s post comes from a good friend and colleague, Megan Barnett. Megan recently formed her own executive function coaching company, The Learning Collective, here in Austin, Texas. She is one of the best resources for understanding executive functioning, and I’m happy to have her insight today.
What is Executive Function Coaching and is it right for my child?
Guest Post by Megan Barnett
After an initial diagnosis, it can feel overwhelming when trying to figure out what the best course of action is to support your child with ADHD. It’s common to see the recommendation “work with an Executive Function Coach,” on a neuropsych evaluation—but then comes the question of what is executive function and what does executive function coaching entail?
Dr. Russel Barkley, one of the most prominent clinicians in ADHD research, argues that ADHD should be seen as a disorder of executive function rather than one of just inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. Executive Function skills are the brain based skills that help a person manage a task and organize the resources involved in order to achieve a goal. These skills are housed in the prefrontal cortex of the brain (the front of the brain) and include the skills listed in the graphic below:
Although children with ADHD may be intellectually typical, Dr. Barkley says that children diagnosed with ADHD have a 30 % deficit in their executive function capabilities when compared to neurotypical children of the same age.
That means that a 10 year old child with ADHD would have the executive function skills of a 7 year old.
While executive function skills fully develop in neurotypical people by age 25 to 30, ADHD is a chronic neurocognitive disorder of executive function skills, and these struggles persist throughout adulthood. It’s important to observe your child’s behavior through an Executive Function Deficit lens as it offers clarity to some of the frustrating and often confusing behaviors your child may be continuing to exhibit.
So what can you do to help your child with their executive function challenges? The answer is multifaceted. I like to tell clients that executive function coaching is an accessory service—lets make sure your child is first getting the proper mental health support if anxiety, perfectionism, and/or depression are co-occurring conditions. Once a trained mental health professional is on your team, buy-in from your child and commitment from the adults supporting the child is the next step. Once these three key pieces are in place, that’s when executive function coaching can really be supportive.
At The Learning Collective ATX, we offer executive function coaching and teach strategies and provide tools to children and young adults with ADHD to help strengthen their executive function skills. We offer a three part approach:
1. In person Executive Function Coaching for your Child
This is 1:1 in person coaching that is tailored to your kiddo’s needs—whether it is teaching backpack and school supply organization, time management strategies, creating a homework routine, promoting growth mindset shifts, keeping track of homework assignments etc.
2. Parent Coaching
This is where a lot of the magic happens. At the end of the day, the parents are the ones who have to be equipped with the knowledge and commitment to help their child put these executive function strategies into play.
3. The Learning Collective Tool Kit
A visual countdown timer for time management (this is different than a timer on your phone or clock), a moveable/erasable to-do list, parent coaching manual, homework assignment task cards, calm down sticks (our emotional regulation tool), and The Learning Collective Student Workbook.
Thank you Megan for your expertise and thoughtful analysis of executive functioning. If you or your child is struggling with aspects of executive functioning, I highly recommend you contact Megan to see what support makes sense.