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5 Ways Executive Function Issues Can Impact Math

Executive function skills play a big role in math success. They allow children to apply the math knowledge they already have, plus build on it to acquire new math skills. So, when children have executive function issues, they may run into trouble with math—even if they understand it.

Here are some common difficulties:

Rushing Through Math Homework

With math problems, students need to have a good understanding of the directions. But children with executive function issues may not take the time to really look at the assignment or think about what they are supposed to do. Instead, they tend to just dive right in. They may rush through the work, which can lead to errors.

Having Trouble Applying New Math Rules

Learning new things involves shifting gears as the activity changes. That takes flexible thinking skills. It also requires that children stop and reflect before they respond. But some children with executive function issues may fixate on what they already know. As a result, they have trouble stepping back and seeing that they may need a new strategy to complete a problem.

Giving Automatic Answers to Math Problems

Some children with executive function issues respond to problems based on habit. Instead of looking at each situation as different, they give an automatic response. When it comes to math, they may get stuck on approaching equations in a certain way. And that can lead them to ignore crucial pieces of information.

Getting Lost in the Middle of Complex Math Problems

Children rely on working memory to keep up with complex math problems. They have to hold on to information—like a formula, an answer from a previous step, or the steps of the problem itself—so they can use it later to complete the problem. But children with poor working memory skills can get lost in the problem.

Not Catching Mistakes

Children have to use self-monitoring to keep track of how they’re doing as they go. Some children with executive function issues have trouble stepping back and reflecting on their work. They may not realise their answer doesn’t make sense and that they should go back to see where they went wrong, or get help.

How You Can Help

If executive function issues are getting in the way of your child’s ability to do math, there are strategies that can help.

Review the instructions

Start by having them look over the assignment before they begin. They can underline the directions and highlight key pieces of information. Those include things like directions or even plus and minus signs.

Assess before starting

Let your child assess whether they know how to do the problems or whether they need help. As your child does the work, encourage them to ask themself questions like, “Is this the same as the last problem, or is it different?”

Create checklists

Help your child create a personalised checklist of things to look out for before they decide that the work is done.

Understanding if your child has executive function problems can help you support them more effectively. Seeing these things as specific skills, and figuring out which ones might be a problem for your child, makes it easier to understand why they are struggling and how to help them.

Biolink Attention Training is expert in executive function and has developed a test to measure how well a child can perform specific functions. Those measures allow us to identify where each child needs the most assistance.

Learn more about this test by clicking here.

Lizaan Spangenberg
Biolink Attention Training Head Office