What is Executive Function and How Can it Affect My Teen?

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It can be extremely difficult for parents to understand and connect to their teen who has executive function deficits. Simple tasks such as completing homework assignments and proper hygiene can become a daily battle in the home. At school, the individual’s executive function skills further impact their ability to stay organized, start and finish work, remember homework assignments, recall facts, and be punctual. Socially, these teens are often withdrawn and find it difficult to make and keep friends because of their limited capacity to understand different perspectives, control their impulses, and regulate their emotions.

Struggling both socially and academically often results in the development of behaviors such as extreme anxiety, a sense of being overwhelmed, and withdrawal in these teens. It is common for these individuals to feel that no one understands them and that they are never going to find success. Consequently, they may start engaging in some destructive behaviors such as not coming out of their room, throwing tantrums, and further isolating themselves socially. It can be heartbreaking for parents to see their child detach from society and unable to keep up with the changes and challenges of daily life.

What is Executive Function?

Executive functions are the mental skills controlled by the frontal lobe of the brain that help an individual plan and accomplish tasks. These skills assist in:

  • Time Management
  • Focusing
  • Organizing
  • Planning
  • Switching focus
  • Attention to detail
  • Adjusting behaviors
  • Self-regulation

If your teen has executive functioning issues, any task requiring these skills could be a challenge for him or her. This is because executive function skills depend on three of the brain’s interrelated functions which include: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control.

  1. Working memory helps retain and manipulate information over a short period of time
  2. Mental flexibility helps shift attention in response to different demands and settings
  3. Self-control which helps an individual resist impulsive actions or responses

If executive functioning is working properly, the brain is able to go through this process rather quickly to meet the demands of a task. However if an individual has weak executive skills, performing even a simple task can be a struggle. When an individual’s executive functioning isn’t performing as it should be, his or her behavior is less controlled, which in turn, affects his or her performance at work, school, and relationships.


While a diagnosis of executive function disorder can be frightening and overwhelming for parents, those parents with a child dealing with this condition should know that they are not alone and that there are several steps one can take to help these individuals grow both socially and individually.

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About Vantage Point by Aspiro

Vantage Point is a specialized offshoot of Aspiro Adventure, the program that pioneered wilderness adventure therapy. Vantage Point focuses on helping students with executive function disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Nonverbal Learning Disorders, among others.

The Vantage Point programs are designed to build self-efficacy in our students through overwhelming mastery experiences – our students accomplish goals they never believed possible, which creates a belief that they are capable of changing their own lives for the better. We focus specifically on social dynamics and social skills to help our students connect with others and feel like they can be a part of the world. Experiential Learning is a tenet of our philosophy and our program. Paired with ongoing individual therapy and targeting specific areas for growth, our wilderness therapy programs are proven successful by outcome studies and are overseen by experienced Field Guides and clinical professionals