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Executive Function and Mathematics

Learning disorders and math disabilities like dyscalculia often arise as a result of issues with executive functioning. In fact, the latest research suggests that there is a close relationship between executive function and math skills, demonstrating how students are able to develop their math proficiency along with the acquisition of original knowledge.

What Are Executive Function Skills?

Executive function refers to eight interrelated processes that combine to act as the brain's command center:

  • Impulse Control
  • Emotional Control
  • Flexible Thinking
  • Working Memory
  • Self-monitoring
  • Prioritization
  • Task Initiation
  • Organization

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, in association with the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs, have produced a body of research demonstrating the ways in which executive functions can help children focus on multiple streams of information simultaneously and become better at problem-solving.

Executive Function Skill Levels Can Improve

There are many published exercises that can strengthen executive function. For example, setting goals that include subgoals improves prioritization while fixed daily routines that inhibit distractions helps strengthen impulse control. Exercises that emphasize time management guides along with apps can also help children stay focused. These improve both organizational skills and flexible thinking in moving from one task to the next. Training in those areas can accompany mathematics lessons for better performance overall.

Complex mathematics problems require prioritization because operations must be solved in a specific order. Impulse control is required to stick with these problems long enough to completely solve them. Many children lose points in math not because they got the answer wrong but simply because they gave up too soon. Not enough storage space in their working memory prevents them from connecting the logic strings that many math problems require; organization skills are required to know which formula to apply and where to look to find the right ones; flexible thinking is necessary to help the math student forget about the previous problem and cleanly move on to the next. By focusing efforts on building up these executive function skills, math proficiency is sure to improve.

The most important takeaway is that executive function skill levels are not fixed. Everyone has the ability to improve executive function skills with practice while improving proficiency in math at the same time.

If your child struggles in math and needs to improve his or her executive function skills, we invite you to consider The Brain Balance Program. Our comprehensive assessment consists of sensory, motor, and academic testing of more than 900 functions and create a customized plan for your child. Contact us today to learn more!

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