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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Executive functioning and self-control

The final element of executive functioning is "inhibition." This is the function that helps us control our responses to what we see, hear and feel.

The Tigger Syndrome

Anyone who is a lover of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A.Milne will know what I am talking about. If you aren't a fan, visit the official Disney Winnie-the-Pooh and find out a little more about Tigger. For those who don't know, his hobbies include:

"Bouncing, causing mayhem, exaggerating the truth"

For those of us who are fans, we also know that Tigger isn't a "malignant" character. He never intends to cause harm. He just gets side-tracked, is over-enthusiastic (some would say out of control :)), and has a very fertile imagination.

Perhaps Tigger has executive functioning difficulties....

Perhaps he forgets to stop and think before he acts. Perhaps his "inhibitory control" is not functioning as it should.

As Oates and Grayson (2004) state,
"If you were unable to inhibit responses to stimuli that do not relate to the task that you have planned to do, then it would probably be impossible to complete it and achieve your goal. You would be drawn from one stimulus to another, in a haphazard fashion, and it would be impossible to undertake any coherently organised action."

Example: Having a conversation

A conversation with a child who has difficulty with inhibitory control may go something like this...

Hi, Billy. That's a great picture you are drawing. Can you tell me about it?

Yeah. I am drawing a truck. I saw a truck the other day. It was red. I spilt red jelly all over my mum. She told me I had to clean it up. My room has lots of cupboards. I have a nintendo......
The original goal of the conversation was lost as the child followed whatever train of thought occurred. This can happen with tasks, where a child gets distracted by sights, sounds, movement and any other irrelevant stimuli. This is quite natural for very young children, but as we grow older and develop our executive functioning skills this behaviour should disappear or at least dramatically decrease.

In the next post I will explore some ways to help children with inhibitory control issues stay on task

Oates, J. & Grayson, A. (2004). Cognitive and Language Development in Children. Blackwell Publishing: Oxford.


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