Dyslexia often involves Executive Functioning difficulties.
So what exactly is Executive Function?
There are many theories and models of Executive Function, but there are always overlaps between these different definitions. Here are eight common and broadly-accepted models of Executive Function Disorder, which we shall then simplify into four main categories:
🔸 Working memory: this governs our ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short periods of time.
🔸 Cognitive flexibility: this helps us to sustain or change our attention in response to different stimuli, or to apply different rules in new circumstances.
🔸 Inhibition control: this allows us to resist impulsive actions.
🔸 Planning and decision making: this is the ability to conceptualise, categorise, model, and order steps towards a goal; and to follow these steps in a logical fashion.
🔸 Error correction and troubleshooting: this is the ability to identify the source, location, and form of a conceptual error, and to know how to remedy that error.
🔸 Reactivity to spontaneous / new events: this is the ability to change our responses to different stimuli, or to apply different rules in new circumstances.
🔸 Competence in technically complex situations: this is the ability to function appropriately in situations which involve diverse and detailed differences, and which require sophisticated and knowledgeable responses.
🔸 Overcoming habitual behaviours: this is the ability to mindfully break out of a repeated behaviour, unthinking way of doing something, practised response to a familiar situation, or comfort zone.
🔸 Response control: this is the ability to inhibit impulses and control one’s responses to new and unfamiliar stimuli.
🔸 Memory: this is the ability to retain information and sequences in the short term.
🔸 Selective attention: this is the ability to focus on a particular object in a particular environment for a particular period of time.
🔸 Emotion regulation: this is the ability to respond emotionally to situations in a manner that is socially acceptible while permitting, delaying, and self-censoring spontaneous reactions.
🔸 Behaviour inhibition: this relates to the tendency to experience anxiety and to withdraw from unfamiliar situations, people, or environments.
🔸 Reactivity to new events: this is the ability to respond in socially acceptable ways to unfamiliar events and situations.
🔸 Problem representation: this is the ability to understand, represent, and articulate challenges to oneself and others.
🔸 Planning and ordering issues: this involves the ability to predict steps in a previously-unseen process, understand the actions needed to undertake those steps, and follow through on the commitments necessary to perform those actions.
🔸 Retention of strategies in short-term memory: this is the memory faculty that enables subjects to instigate and carry out strategies in a coherent and pre-planned manner according to rules.
🔸 Evaluation, error detection, error correction: this is the ability to recognise, conceptually categorise, and understand, errors in a system or process; and then to formulate and carry out strategies to rectify those errors.
🔸 Volition: this refers to the ability to generate one’s own goals.
🔸 Planning: this refers to the ability to identify and organize the steps or materials needed for achieving a goal.
🔸 Purposive action: this refers to the subject’s ability to initiate, maintain, switch, and stop sequences of planned actions.
🔸 Effective performance: this refers to one’s ability to notice, monitor, and correct mistakes.
🔸 Response execution: this is the ability to select the appropriate response to a given stimulus, and carry out that response according to one’s own selective criteria.
🔸 Memory retrieval: this refers to the consistent re-accessing of events or information from the past that has previously been stored and encoded in the brain.
🔸 Emotional evaluation: this refers to a measure that assesses an evaluation of an individual when experiencing various core emotions. It may include emotional self-awareness and self-evaluation.
🔸 Updating: this refers to the continuous monitoring and quick addition or deletion of contents within one’s working memory.
🔸 Inhibition: this refers to one’s ability to override or supplant certain powerful responses and reactions in a given situation.
🔸 Shifting: this refers to one’s cognitive flexibility in switching between different tasks or mental states.
🔸 Inhibition: this refers to the level and controllability of one’s tendency to ignore distractions, resist temptations, and delay actions.
🔸 Non-verbal working memory: this is the ability to keep non-verbal (pictoral, auditory, emotional, etc) information in mind over a short period, and then recall it at approrpiate times.
🔸 Verbal working memory: this is the ability to keep verbal information in mind over a short period, and then recall it at appropriate times.
🔸 Emotional self-regulation: this is the ability to respond emotionally to situations in a manner that is socially acceptible while permitting, delaying, and self-censoring spontaneous reactions.
🔸 Self-motivation: this is the desire to keep moving – an internal drive to achieve, produce, develop, and keep being productive.
🔸 Planning and problem solving: this refers to the ability to determine a sequence of actions that are designed to achieve a particular objective, and then formulating a workable plan that facilitates these actions.
We can see there are four general categories that all models of Executive Function Disorder occupy. In a braod and simplified rendering, these are:
As a general simplification:
These categories help provide an overview of the most common aspects of Executive Function Disorder. Working memory difficulties, and inhibition and emotional control issues are the most widely represented challenges across all models; with planning and decision making a close runner-up.
This can be demonstrated in the following chart, with the manifestations down the left-hand side and the eight models (A-H) represented in eight verticle columns:
It should be said, not everybody with dyslexia and dyspraxia manifests Executive Functioning problems. However, when looking for the signs of dyslexia, an awareness of these issues is crucial. And when dealing with dyslexic and dyspraxic students, employees, and colleagues, a sympathetic understanding can help everybody operate optimally, and prevent miscommunication.
See for instance: