Skip to content

Executive function


Executive function refers to a set of higher-level skills involved in organising and controlling one’s own thoughts and behaviours in order to fulfil a goal with maximum efficiency.

For the purpose of FASD diagnosis it includes:

  • impulse control (characterised by actions without forethought, which often have potential for harm to self or others)
  • inhibition response
  • hyperactivity (characterised by inappropriate and excessive levels of motor activity or speech)
  • working memory
  • planning & problem solving
  • shifting & cognitive flexibility

While in many definitions and theories of brain function attention overlaps with some of the executive functions, they have been defined separately for diagnostic purposes in FASD.

How might the person with FASD be affected

Trouble planning a complex task

Trouble knowing where to begin a task - whether school activity or playing a game

Trouble moving from one activity to another - school environment e.g. moving from music to maths lesson, or home environment e.g. stop playing a game and get ready for dinner

Acting without thinking e.g. disruptive and/or aggressive behaviour in the classroom, hyperactivity

May call out or act out in the classroom when they are not sure what to do or can't do something

Harm to others and self harm

Tips for managing these difficulties

Guide the person to think through problem solving, give them lots of practical examples and demonstrate how to do this yourself (e.g. thinking out loud)

Model good behaviour and decision making yourself

Remind them it is okay to make mistakes, but is important to try again

Talk about goals and how to achieve them


RETURN TO: Common difficulties and tips