Lightening Round Interview 2: Executive Functions and Speech Therapy

Lightening Round Interview 2: Executive Functions and Speech Therapy

with Jennifer Hatfield

Jennifer Hatfield "talks" about executive functions!

Jennifer Hatfield “talks” about executive functions!

Here’s my second installment of the fun and informative – Lightening Round Interviews. For these interviews, I’ll be “speaking” with various experts in assorted professions related to early childhood development.

Today, I welcome speech language pathologist, Jennifer Hatfield of Therapy and Learning Services based in the Greater Chicago area, for a lightening round of 5 questions on the topic of executive functions. The first question is always personal and related to how they became interested in working in a particular area or with a special population. For the last question, I ask for recommended resources

1. Jennifer, the last few weeks you have written some great blog posts on skills related to executive functions (e.g. inhibitory skills and sustained attention). First, can you please give us a simple definition of executive functions? How did you become interested in providing services to enhance executive functions in individuals?

  • Answer: “Executive Functions are, in simplest terms, your brain’s master control system. Many compare it to an air traffic control system or dashboard on your car. A slightly more detailed explanation is that they are the cognitive {thinking} processes that allow us to plan, direct, initiate, complete, remember, attend to, monitor, inhibit impulses and direct goals. Whew! I have always been interested in brain functions and neurology. In fact, my first job was on a neuro-intensive care unit in an urban hospital treating individuals with brain injuries. On a personal note I have seen both of  my children, as teens/pre teens, having some mild difficulties with executive function skills so I have personal experience.”

2. What are some signs that an individual may have weak executive function skills?

  • Answer: “Executive Function skills are likely to blame in any individual who is disorganized, forgetful, has trouble beginning tasks, gets distracted easily, loses things, manages time poorly, has poor emotional regulation, has difficulty transitioning to new activities/schedules etc…this list is not all inclusive but contains the many common signs. In addition, some individuals with EF weaknesses have a diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADD and/or are on the Autism Spectrum. You do not, however, have to have one of these diagnosis to have weak EF skills.”

3. How can speech language pathologists help children or adults with executive functions difficulties?

  • Answer: “First let me say that SLPs (speech language pathologists) are one of the best professionals to provide therapy and/or coaching to individuals with weak executive function (EF) skills. Our exceptional training in brain processes, neurology and theory help us to detect EF difficulties as well as treat them. The method is basically the same for both children and adults {each would be individualized of course}. You must first identify strengths and weaknesses of the EF system and then use the individual’s EF strengths to lessen the effects of the weak EF skills. Using a “coaching” system allows the individual to learn how to navigate future problems as well as to deal with current issues related to EF difficulties by providing supports {can take many different forms} that may or may not be gradually faded as the individual progresses. Coaching allows for the individual to become an active problem solver in the process with the therapist/coach as the guide.”

4. When I work with toddlers and preschoolers, I tend to use the phrases “My turn” and “Your turn” or the name of the child (e.g. “Johnny’s turn”). Can you explain how simple phrases like this help to enhance self-regulation in young children?

  •  Answer: “This clearly lets the children know who’s “job” it is at the moment to do _________. Many times, children with weak EF skills, or who have difficulty sharing/taking turns, simply don’t know the process. They need a clear guide/cue/boundary to be successful at any task. Even something so simple as coloring {see a blog post I wrote on this very topic using play sequences}. I would suggest an even better way would be to use a physical object to denote the turn as well as, perhaps, the ASL sign for “turn.” The more supports the better with most young children.”

To read more about inhibitory skills, please read Jennifer’s post: Executive Functions 101: Inhibitory Skills.

5. Can you recommend any resources (books, websites, others) to help readers learn more about executive functions as well as some treatment methods?

  • Answer: “I would recommend any books by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare and Sara Ward,MS.,CCC-SLP (please see links below for more information). For treatment methods {there are so many} I would say that a sound program must consist of excellent evaluative methods and be multi-sensory, individualized {based upon strengths and weaknesses}, flexible, and collaborative. Some techniques I like are: visual schedules, goal sheets, mind maps, time maps, note taking guides, play sequences and self talk {again please know that this list is in no way all inclusive}.”

The following are some fantastic books written by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare:

Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential

Smart but Scattered Teens: The “Executive Skills” Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential

Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, Second Edition: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention

Coaching Students with Executive Skills Deficits

Thank you so much, Jennifer for participating in my Lightening Round Interviews!

Check out Jennifer’s Blog and her awesome podcasts on BlogTalkRadio.

If you are an expert in any field related to childhood development and would like to be interviewed, please email me

Kimberly Scanlon, M.A. CCC-SLP is a speech language pathologist, an author and a mother. As the owner of Scanlon Speech Therapy, LLC, a unique boutique practice in Bergen County, Kimberly embraces individuality and treats the whole person. Her goal is to spread compassion, hope, and some speech, language and literacy tips one moment, one person at a time.  Her first book, My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development and her her second book, Learning to Read is a Ball are available for purchase at online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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