12 days 18-19 · Special Education

A driving question

On the fifth day of Christmas…

So what on earth do we mean when we talk about executive function difficulties? Here’s a super-quick test you can try for yourself, and an analogy I often share with students, parents and teachers:

  • Take two post-its and a pen.
  • Put your pen on the first note as if you’re about to write, close your eyes and sign your name.
  • The result is probably pretty much like your usual signature.
  • Now take the second post-it, stick it on your forehead and try to sign your name on it.
  • The confusion and frustration of this is akin to that felt by a learner affected by e.g ADHD, dyslexia, working memory difficulties or EFdeficits.

A different perspective is required when a student expresses their frustration at the effort required to master each stage of the reading, writing or other learning process. At these times I ask them if they’ve ridden in a car. We agree that parents make it seem effortless, then I tell them all the steps involved in just starting the car and pulling onto the road, pedal control, gear changing, looking, listening, using mirrors, indicators, windscreen wipers, steering etc. It’s a hugely complex multi-step process that requires mind and body to work together consciously in the first instance, and it takes a lot of practice to learn.


With time and rehearsal, both skills can become more automatic.


Originally shared in a post in January 2017.

More information on executive function can be found here.

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