Our brains have many “executive functions,” which are neurotypical ways that our brains process activities, events, emotions, time, etc. When a person has executive function disorder, they typically struggle with some or all of these executive functions.
One executive function is known as “Cognitive Flexibility.” It is our ability to adapt our thinking and behaviors based on new information or experiences. It is our ability to adjust our strategies, ideas, thoughts, or beliefs based on what we experience or see in the world around us.
Now, many of us struggle with this in some ways. Politics is a great example of this. We may discard new information because of our prior biases, and may not be able to be talked into new beliefs just because we’ve been given new information.
But for children with executive function disorder, this can be much more pronounced and be experienced with so-called “minor” transitions that do not necessarily affect our core values. Examples of what this might look like include:
- Child may become overwhelmed or frustrated when asked to switch from learning math to learning reading, especially if that switch occurred out of order (for example, a teacher deciding to end the math lesson early to focus more on learning to read).
- Child may find it upsetting to switch games when she still wants to enjoy the same game. For example, a child may be enjoying a game of monopoly with their friends, but the friends decide the game is taking too long and want to switch to checkers. The child, if they were enjoying monopoly, may struggle to understand why or how they need to make the switch, and fail to understand their friends’ experience – instead finding the experience frustrating and possibly struggling socially as a result.
- Child may be taught by his parents to do multiplication a specific way. Then, at school, they teach all the children how to complete multiplication a different way. While all the other children may be able to adapt to this new style of math, the child with executive function disorder may struggle and become stuck, unable to adapt to this new way of performing math.
Cognitive inflexibility in a general sense is part of the human experience. Religion, politics, relationship beliefs – there are many examples of things that we believe very strongly that are hard to talk us out of. We exhibit cognitive inflexibility.
But children with executive function disorder shows this inflexibility in more persistent, common, and minor ways. That struggle can impact them academically, socially, and affect their mental health. Therapists for executive function disorder help your child learn to adapt to these situations and cope with the emotions they experience when they’re overwhelmed. Learn more by contacting Long Island Counseling Services, today.