February 26, 2013

One Perspective on Four Subtypes of Executive Function Disorder (Part 1 of 3)

At Engaging Minds, our specific mission is to help kids who struggle with executive functions – often labeled Executive Function Disorder – improve their skills (and with that, their confidence and performance) so that they can be more successful, invested students. But what exactly encompasses EFD? According to Mel Levine, in his 1994 book Educational Care: A System for Understanding and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and in School, there are four subtypes of difficulties with executive function, all based around types of disorganization. These are very clearly laid out in an excellent piece on the University of Michigan’s Dyslexia Help site, and they are: material-spatial disorganization, temporal-sequential disorganization, transitional disorganization, and prospective retrieval disorganization.

In this piece, we will briefly define each of Levine’s subtypes and in the next two weeks we will delve more deeply into each subtype and discuss specific tips for dealing with each. It is important to note that Levine describes one of many views on executive function issues and that, as is always the case with learning difficulties, one size does not fit all.

Messy desk cartoon

Material-spatial disorganization: This subtype focuses specifically on students’ difficulties in dealing with the physical resources that are necessary for successful schooling (and, of course, this extends to the home, to afterschool activities and even to tutoring). Students with this subtype are more apt to lose or misplace things such as binders, textbooks and equipment, as well as have difficulty remembering to bring paperwork to and from school and home.

Temporal-sequential disorganization: Students dealing with this subtype of EFD have trouble with the timing and sequencing of tasks, causing them to often be late for class or put off completion of tasks because of an altered perception of the amount of time needed to complete them. They may also have difficulty figuring out how to plan out long-term projects and can become confused as to the order in which steps to complete a task must be accomplished.

Transitional disorganization: Moving from one task to the next or from one class/activity to the next is the particular challenge for students who struggle with this type of organizational difficulty. This then leads to rushing to arrive or leave on time, problems with settling into a new activity or class after a transition and, perhaps most frustrating to parents, preparing adequately for a transition (such as getting ready for school in the morning).

Prospective retrieval disorganization: This subtype is one that actually is often attributed to the other subtypes, but which Levine emphatically states is its own type of EFD. Students who have trouble sticking to a plan that has already been put in place or struggle with following through on the promise of completing a task may be dealing with this subtype. This might also aptly be called the “It’s Due TOMORROW?!” subtype.

Like with many multifaceted learning difficulties, students who struggle with executive functions may be dealing with one, two or even all of these subtypes. However, there are distinct and effective ways of helping students deal with each, and in the next two weeks we will offer suggestions that you may find helpful for your child and that we tutors employ during our work with our students. Stay tuned and see you next week!