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The Relationship between Executive Function Skills and Language

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By Jennifer Sax & Mallory Rotondo

Language is not limited to what we speak and hear. In fact, it plays an integral role in our ability to complete many executive functioning tasks. The relationship between executive functioning and language is reciprocal, meaning each skill set is dependent on the other for success.

While it may not be an obvious connection, language is essential to success in executive function (EF) tasks such as turning in homework on time, morning routines, or following complex directions. In these examples, language serves as our “internal script”, guiding us as we monitor, plan, and execute tasks. This internal script is called metacognition. As adults, our internal thought process is natural and automatic. However, for those with EF weaknesses, mental language skills may be underdeveloped.

To illustrate the reciprocal relationship between language and EF skills, let’s consider Johnny, a 13 year old student, and how these skills work together in different areas of communication.

Oral Language
When Johnny wants to tell a story about his weekend, he has to mentally plan and sequence events (metacognition) before speaking. This mental organization allows his story to make sense to a listener. Without the EF skills of planning and organization, his story may lack structure and/or important details. As Johnny speaks, he must determine whether his listener understands his story and adjust accordingly. This requires intact self-regulation skills.

Written Language
Johnny’s teacher has assigned a 5-paragraph essay on the First Amendment. Before Johnny starts writing, he must use the EF skills of prioritization and long-term planning to research the topic and select the most important information to include. Then, Johnny needs to integrate this information into an organized outline, creating a plan for his paper. From there, he must sequence and organize this information into well-structured sentences, and incorporate transitions to write paragraphs that flow from one to the other. Throughout the process, he must utilize self-monitoring and problem solving skills to edit and evaluate his work.

Auditory Comprehension
In science class, Johnny is listening to a lecture on the respiratory system. As his teacher speaks, Johnny must sustain attention to her voice while inhibiting background distractions, a foundational EF skill. Johnny’s working memory is active as he processes language and determines what information is important to include in his notes. Throughout the lecture, Johnny utilizes metacognition and self-awareness to monitor his understanding of material and ask questions when necessary.

Reading Comprehension
Johnny is reading The Outsiders for his English class. While he is reading, he needs to sustain attention to the text and utilize working memory to decode, or sound out, new words. His working memory is also actively integrating world knowledge (what he already knows) with new information to make sense of the text. Johnny’s cognitive flexibility and problem solving skills allow him to make inferences and predictions about the novel, as well as use context to define unknown vocabulary. Finally, Johnny uses metacognition to check for understanding as he reads.

It is essential to understand the reciprocal relationship between language and EF skills to help students succeed both academically and in life. A certified Speech Language Pathologist is often the best resource to help parents and students understand that connection, and provide treatment when there are difficulties.

Erica MechlinskiThe Relationship between Executive Function Skills and Language

Managing Anxiety: Quick Tips to Support Your Child

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By Mallory Rotondo, M.S., CF-SLP

All behavior is a form of communication. There are many reasons why a child may become disruptive or have a tantrum, and it can be challenging to identify the underlying cause of this behavior. When anxiety is fueling negative behavior, it is particularly complicated to figure out.

The National Institute of Mental Health (2017) reported that anxiety affects 31.9% of adolescents (ages 13-18) in the United States. While anxiety is not formally considered a learning disability, it certainly inhibits a child’s ability to learn. When a child is experiencing anxiety, they have poor regulation skills, limited executive functioning, and develop rigid social thinking that prevents them from taking another person’s perspective.

The key to supporting a child with anxiety is to identify and prevent anxiety triggers and build social-emotional skills to cope when anxiety arises.

Katrina Schwartz, of MindShift, a company investigating and reporting on trends in learning, wrote an excellent article summarizing tips to support children with anxiety in schools (Check out the full article in the link below).

While Schwartz’s article is directed toward teachers, here are 5 great ways to support your child with anxiety at home:

  1. Take breaks. But make sure they are cognitively-engaging. Breaks are important for a kid with anxiety. But if the break isn’t paired with a cognitive distraction, it may leave the child ‘stuck’ in their negative thought process. Encourage breaks which occupy the mind (e.g., crossword puzzle, sudoku, reading a book for pleasure).
  2. Avoid countdowns. Counting down doesn’t help the child who feels anxious about finishing. Instead, find a functional stopping point. For example, “Let’s finish the problem you’re working on” or “Finish that paragraph and then join us for dinner”.
  3. Help your child recognize the signs. Talk your child through a ‘body check’. What does their body feel like when they are getting anxious? Get specific, and write it down. Self-monitoring is important to anticipating moments of anxiety.
  4. Reward practice. When a child utilizes a skill or self-calming strategy, reward the practice! Even if it didn’t work perfectly, praise him for his attempt to take control.
  5. Use a dry erase board. Does your child fear they will mess up or write the wrong thing? Try utilizing a dry erase board, where mistakes are easily erased. This may reduce some of that stress during homework time.

For more great tips, visit Katrina Schwartz’s article at:


Erica MechlinskiManaging Anxiety: Quick Tips to Support Your Child

Six Ways to Help Your Child Overcome the Fear of Failure

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ICYMI on Facebook:

School can be extremely stressful, and many students have an overwhelming fear of failure. This feeling can prevent them from getting work done because they feel too anxious to complete a task, or it can make them feel as though they aren’t good enough. If your child can relate to this, here are six ways you can help him overcome his fear of failure. #TipTuesday

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Erica MechlinskiSix Ways to Help Your Child Overcome the Fear of Failure

The Memory Game

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By Colette Leudeu Hapi

Most people, if not everybody, are aware of the fact that when we store information, we create memories. Many of us are also aware that there are multiple types of memories: long-term memory and short-term memory. However, did you know that there is a third type of memory that is just as important in our daily lives as the other two? Each type of memory plays a fundamental role in the way we remember, learn, and create. So what exactly is the difference between long-term, short-term, and that mysterious third memory known as working memory? I’m glad you asked!

Short-Term Memory vs Long-Term Memory
Short-term memory differs from long-term memory in two fundamental ways. As its name suggests, short-term memory allows the human brain to keep information in the mind for a very short period of time, such as remembering a phone number long enough until you are able to dial it. The extent of short-term memory lasts within seconds to minutes and then dissipates if effort is not made to retain the information for long-term use. Long-term memory, however, can store vast amounts of information and is usually permanent (nothing lasts forever, alas!). It is responsible for the retention of memories that have to do with life experiences, knowledge about how to perform tasks, and how to properly speak a specific language.

Short-Term Memory vs Working Memory
Working memory allows the manipulation of information and is often interchangeably used with short-term memory, even though the two are very different. Although short-term memory plays a role in working memory, working memory is a theoretical framework of the structure of how memory manipulation works. Working memory is key to learning, as it helps individuals hold on to information long enough to use it. For example, working memory is responsible for many of the skills children use to learn to read. Auditory working memory helps children hold on to the sounds letters make long enough to sound out new words, and visual working memory helps children remember what those words look like so they can recognize them in the future. When working effectively, these skills keep children from having to sound out every word they see. This then helps them read with less hesitation and become fluent readers. 

Working Memory and Executive Functioning
Before something is learned, it must pass through working memory. For individuals with executive dysfunction, they are often distracted while performing a task that the information does not pass through working memory due to inattentiveness. For example, they might need to re-read a worksheet three times before the information travels through their working memory, which will help children remember what they are supposed to.

Three Types of Memory
Remember: there is not one, not two, but three types of memory. Short-term memory allows you to remember a specific piece of information for a short amount of time (hence the name). Long-term memory, on the other hand, is responsible for life experiences and is meant to last for extended periods of time. Both of these types of memories help us function in school and work, but it is really with the help of our working memory that we are able to be successful. When we manipulate information in our working memory, we retain information from a previous task or question and use that to solve a new problem or complete a task. Although it might seem overwhelming at times to strengthen all three types of memory, there are many strategies you can use, such as visualization, mnemonics, or chunking. It is important to note that memory works just like any muscle group and has to be attended to regularly in order to see and keep any improvements that have been made.

Erica MechlinskiThe Memory Game

Coaching a Growth Mindset

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ICYMI on Facebook:

If you want your child to develop a growth mindset, it’s important that you offer support. Altering the type of feedback you give to her, such as focusing on the positives and acknowledging that a task is difficult yet not impossible, can motivate your child to improve her mindset and work habits.

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Erica MechlinskiCoaching a Growth Mindset

Thank you, Parents!

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By Rhona Gordon

I wanted to write this blog because it is time to acknowledge all of the hard work parents do for their children. I know that most children do not believe that their parents know what they are talking about, but I believe in you!

When I meet with new families, each family comes to our office with its own dynamic. Some are bantering in the office with their children and all laugh about how many coats went missing this year or how many completed assignments were left at home and never turned in. Some families come and the child tells me that everything is going fine and there is nothing to worry about while the parents report a very different story, and there are some children who really would rather be anywhere besides my office! However, some come to Thinking Organized with anxiety that hinders their performance and ability to complete their work. No matter how the child presents himself or herself, the parents are trying very hard to reinforce a child’s hard work and gently discuss the real reason the family is looking for help. That requires a lot of patience and measured word choice by the parents who are looking to help build a child’s self-esteem rather than punish him or her.

As your child begins his or her work with Thinking Organized, parents again step in to reinforce, encourage and in some cases make sure that the child is using the strategies taught. This is not an easy job because it takes time and stamina, but our parents are committed. Parents are busy with their own obligations, other children and family, yet I get reports that parents stay up with their children when the children are struggling, or some worry silently because getting involved will not be helpful for the child.  Whichever strategy you use, it is hard and stressful for parents to watch their child struggle. This is exhausting work and you are doing it!

It is time for Thinking Organized to remind all of our parents that we are not only here to cheer your child on, but also cheer our wonderful parents on. As I think I have told each one of you when we first met, effective executive functioning skills can be taught and learned, but it takes time. So, don’t give up, but do take a break. And this is the perfect time to kick back, relax and just enjoy your family! We wish you and your family a very happy holiday season and a healthy and happy New Year!

We look forward to seeing everyone in 2018!


Erica MechlinskiThank you, Parents!

Smartwatch 101

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By Jennifer Sax

If you are not up-to-date on the latest “smart” technology, a smartwatch is essentially a mini smartphone for your wrist. They are made by a variety of manufacturers and function as a companion to your smartphone. In addition to answering phone calls, reading text messages, tracking steps, and controlling music, there are many features that may help you with your organization, memory, and time management skills. Smartwatches are an excellent tool for individuals with executive dysfunction, so we’ve highlighted a few features that are sure to help strengthen these vitals skills.

Display settings: A useful feature of most smartwatch brands is the option to customize your display. The face of the watch can often be set to ensure important information or applications appear when you glance at your watch or tap a button/screen. This can support your memory and time management skills, as it decreases the likelihood that you will forget about important events, tasks, or even the weather!

Reminders: Another helpful feature for those who struggle to stay organized is to use reminders. Reminders can be set to notify you at specific times or even at a given location (location-based reminders will use GPS to initiate reminders when you are at a particular location). So, if you need to remember to pick up your dry cleaning while running errands in your neighborhood, you can set you reminder to pop up on your wrist when you are in that particular place.

Vibration alerts: When you receive an email or reminder on your smartphone, your paired smartwatch will notify you via vibration. The wrist vibration allows for easier access to notifications than if you relied on your phone, which could be buried in your purse or in your pocket. With a quick glance at your wrist, you are more likely to remember to buy milk at the grocery store or get the notes from your teacher during lunch.

Speech-to-Text: The ability to quickly set reminders, notes, or events by talking into your wrist is one of the best features of the smartwatch. It ensures you will not forget to add items to your to-do list, call your aunt on her birthday, or forget to add you doctor’s appointment to your calendar.

Productivity Applications: Many smartwatch applications, such as wunderlist, evernote, easilydo, and 24me, are smartwatch compatible.  Therefore, you can become more organized when your smartwatch is linked to your favorite productivity app.

Let us know how you use your smartwatch to help you “think organized!”

Erica MechlinskiSmartwatch 101

What’s Going On in This Picture?

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Helping our students develop their critical thinking and inference skills is a key goal of Thinking Organized.

One tool that we use is the New York Times‘ “What’s Going On in This Picture?” feature, where students are presented with an image without context and have to determine what exactly they are looking at.

The Oct. 2 feature displayed this picture and posed the following questions for students:



1. After looking closely at the image above (or at the full-size image), think about these three questions:

• What is going on in this picture?

• What do you see that makes you say that?

• What more can you find?

2. Next, join the conversation by clicking on the comment button and posting in the box that opens on the right. (Students 13 and older are invited to comment, although teachers of younger students are welcome to post what their students have to say.)

3. After you have posted, try reading back to see what others have said, then respond to someone else by posting another comment. Use the “Reply” button or the @ symbol to address that student directly.

Note: Since Oct. 9 is a holiday for many school districts, the next “What’s Going On in This Picture?” will take place on Oct. 16.

Erica MechlinskiWhat’s Going On in This Picture?