Executive Function & Literacy

The term executive function refers to an interwoven and interrelated set of skills that allow a child to analyze incoming information, problem-solve in challenging situations, rationalize creatively, and communicate their thought processes. These facets begin in critical developmental periods of early childhood, continuing into school-age, adolescence and adulthood. When seamlessly at work, executive function skills simply facilitate the ease of learning and applying strategies to various situations. Unfortunately, when children struggle managing daily stimuli, breakdowns occur leading to outbursts and behaviors that appear to be outside of the child’s control.

Executive function skills are further incorporated into literacy, including reading and writing. Competent readers are able to proficiently comprehend and examine text, determine the meanings of unfamiliar words, and understand an author’s intent. Strong writers have learned the art of gathering ideas, organizing material, and revising effectively and efficiently. Students experiencing challenges with executive function skills, however, struggle with reading comprehension and written expression. They may read a story yet be unable to retell any part of the narrative, or they may find writing a paragraph grueling and impossible. Therapeutic intervention addresses components of literacy, teaches strategies, and provides students with foundational knowledge through techniques that simultaneously boost self-confidence.

For more information, visit Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child.


“Rainbow” – drawn by a preschooler

Coloring and drawing on different surfaces with a variety of writing utensils builds foundational preliteracy skills through narratives. Children are encouraged to devise plans, make mistakes, and revise their original ideas based on current circumstances. Note the Mario scenario and how this kindergartner is using his executive function capacities to put himself “in the driver’s seat.”