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All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Executive function, self-esteem and risk taking

Executive function is like your own personal search engine.

When you face a task or situation, this brain function immediately goes into search mode. It asks the questions:
  • Have I done this before?
  • How did I do it?
  • What did I do that was successful? What didn't work?
This helps you to face the task or situation with a real sense of your abilities and limitations.

Why some toddlers have no fear

Many toddlers do things that give their parents heart-attacks (not literally, of course). Things like climbing in unlikely places. Or running off to explore... despite busy roads and the risk of getting lost.

Why do they do these things?

Because they haven't yet built up a bank of information that tells them what is safe and what is dangerous. Or, to put it in other language, they haven't had a wide range of experiences that their "search engine" can draw on to build a picture of their abilities and limitations.

Why some children with executive functioning issues have no fear

As we heard in several of the parent stories told last month, one of the greatest fears for parents of children with Autism was the fact that they may run away when in public. This is not because of a lack of experience. This is because their "search engine" isn't working in the same way as other children their age.

This means that if you are walking them through a shopping centre, and they see something they want, their executive function does not flash warnings based on prior experiences and what they have been taught... eg.

"I might get lost if I run away"
Instead, their "search engine" doesn't kick in, and they may act without applying any thought about previous experiences at all.

So, for children whose executive function is affected by different conditions, you might find that they take big risks - physically (like getting stuck up a tree), emotionally (like trusting someone who ends up bullying them), or academically (like picking books to read that are beyond their reading ability).

Why some children with executive functioning issues live anxiously

The other side of this difficulty using their "search engine" is that children will also not be able to recognise and apply their strengths. If you approach a task or event without applying memories about previous experiences of success, you are less likely to feel confident.

This contributes to children being timid or anxious in new environments. It also may mean that they struggle with a task that they had successfully completed in class the day before. And it may also contribute to timidity or shyness when interacting with other people.

So executive functioning can effect your self-efficacy, or your belief in your own ability built up by learning from watching others and your own experiences (Cherry, nd). This, in turn, plays a role in your self-esteem.

Who might have these difficulties?

Children who might have these difficulties include those affected by Autism, ADHD, Bi-polar Disorder, Depression or other developmental disabilities.


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