Executive Function and School Success

2018 08 06When it comes to doing well in school, we must provide our students with the right tools for the job.  But how do you determine what your child needs in his toolbox? Do you find yourself wondering, “Why does my child continually to struggle and fail in school when he is so bright?”  He knows how to read, how to write, how to do math and yet cannot seem to keep up. What is your child missing in his toolbox?

Strong executive function may be the missing link.

As reported in Additude Magazine, “Up to 90 percent of kids with ADHD struggle with executive function challenges that impair goal-directed behavior.”

Think of executive function as capacities for self-control that allow us to sustain action in problem solving toward a goal. It is goal directed problem solving and goal directed persistence. Certain cognitive functions support executive function. They include attention, filtering out distractions, working memory, short-term memory, spatial memory, auditory processing, time on-task, and behavioral control. These are often deficit in ADHD children and adults.

Play Attention is specifically designed to strengthen the cognitive skills and self-regulation that lay the foundation for strong executive function.  The following are just a few of the cognitive functions that are addressed within the Play Attention program:


Attention is a cognitive function that is at the core of all executive function. Poor attention negatively affects working memory, planning/organization, self-monitoring, initiation, inhibition, and shift. This is why the attentional feedback mechanism is at the core of Play Attention.

When solving a problem, our attention skills help us focus, concentrate on the various elements and determine what's most relevant. This will allow clarifying both the goal and the strategy to reach it. Focus helps us resist interferences that may interrupt the reasoning process. It can also help us inhibit automatic and irrelevant answers for the situation, such as stopping at a stop sign when a traffic policeman is actually motioning us to continue.

Short-term Memory

Our long-term memory plays a major role in reasoning as we can refer to action plans stored in our memory to solve a new problem. Our short-term memory and its counterpart, working memory, are the gateways to long-term memory. It allows us to memorize essential elements of the problem, such as the goal we have to reach, and to configure them in different ways, just like numbers for mental calculation. Play Attention allows us to develop and refine these skills.

Remember, there is great interaction between attention and memory. Our attention is particularly required when we deal with a new kind of information, i.e. when no such information has ever been stored in our memory.

Time on Task

Time on task requires mindfulness; the ability to sustain attention to the task at hand. It is also a critical cognitive skill that permits executive function to operate properly such as initiation; the ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies to finish the activity in an appropriate amount of time.

Discriminatory Processing

Discriminatory processing is a cognitive ability that supports proper executive function. Discriminatory Processing in Play Attention requires the student to inhibit impulsive responses and carefully select appropriate visual images. It can also help inhibit automatic and irrelevant responses for the situation, such as pressing the spacebar at the appearance of a white asteroid. Learning this behavior enables other executive functions to take over and guide future behavior.

Auditory Processing

At the core of auditory processing is verbal working memory. This is often a very difficult cognitive skill for ADHD children and adults. They often cannot maintain sustained attention to multiple step instruction. Therefore, sequencing, planning, and strategizing are often impaired. When a teacher asks an ADHD student to take out their textbook, open it to page 46, and get a sheet of paper and a pencil out, the ADHD student is unable to process all of this information. Play Attention’s Auditory Processing program creates new neural pathways to teach students to process multiple step instructions. This will allow the student to later plan, sequence, and organize.

Social Cues

Social Cues teaches the ability to use verbal working memory. Verbal working memory is the ability to give ourselves instructions to problem solve or accomplish goals. In the case of Social Skills, the student uses attention to produce an image and then extrapolates and correlates the appropriate social response.

Working Memory

Use of mental images as mental maps to guide behavior toward accomplishing tasks through a sequence of events. Without good working memory, sense of time, hindsight, foresight are all impaired.  In Play Attention, the working memory games requires, mental imagery that helps the student perceive something that isn't there. It is required to complete the game to remember the map of and the obstacles between the player and his goal.

When it comes to vision, mental imagery is the impression to actually "see" an image in your mind, like an absent person's face. This can help us create existing (faces, human bodies, numbers, words, objects, animals...) or imaginary (monsters, abstract figures) or shapes. Mental imagery skills are called upon every day for various tasks such as thinking, dreaming, reasoning and problem-solving, anticipating events, recognizing objects presented in an unusual way, considering an itinerary, understanding a verbal description.

Behavioral Shaping

Executive function requires control our emotions and motivations. If emotional self-control is impaired, then outbursts often replace reasoning. Excuses often accompany outbursts, and a downward spiral begins.

Emotional self-control permits executive function to initiate reasoning, strategizing, planning, development of objectives, and the ability to shift to other situations appropriately. When the components of executive function come together to determine behavior, this is called self-regulation.

Play Attention can help you provide your child/students with all of the tools necessary for school success!