How are executive functions affected by a brain injury?
One can not talk about executive functions without first mentioning the frontal lobe of the brain. The two systems are interchangeable. So when we speak of one, we can’t help but associate the other. The frontal lobe is responsible for relaying our higher level executive functions: planning, information processing, memory, judgment, initiation, abstraction, emotional regulation, inattentiveness, and self-awareness. Our executive functioning helps us to interpret nonverbal cues and control our inhibitions. It organizes our thoughts, ideas and behaviors. Our executive functions combine to create our consciousness and help to establish the foundation of who we are as individuals – how we are perceived by others in relationship to how we conduct ourselves in the world.
What do executive function deficits look like in the classroom?
When a student has executive function deficits, cognitive development can be impacted. Some examples of higher level executive function deficits that may indicate a child could be having problems include difficulty with:
- understanding (written or auditory) information as fast as other students in the classroom or understanding directions (information processing)
- retaining new information or recalling recently discussed information (memory)
- working independently without being told to do so or completing assignments (initiation)
- generalizing specific concepts, ideas, or lessons learned or conceptualizing theories into particular examples (abstraction)
- inhibiting aggressive or inappropriate classroom behavior or controlling emotions when upset or experiencing stress (emotional regulation)
- concentrating in the classroom environment or being constantly distracted and preoccupied with other students’ conversations and/or outside noise (inattentiveness)
- interacting constructively with fellow students or is misinterpreting social cues (self-awareness)
Repercussions of impaired executive functioning on a child’s life after brain injury
Executive function deficits have an array of implications on a student’s life both in and out of the classroom. Executive functions are the “bread and butter” of our cognitive and functional behaviors. Their functioning, or lack of functioning, determines how others perceive us. The repercussions of brain injury significantly affect a child’s quality of life and can result in social, emotional, behavioral and psychological difficulties. If a child’s executive functioning is impacted by brain injury and the child does not receive the appropriate in-school supports and services to accommodate these problems, the student’s educational experience will be negatively impacted.