Executive Function Skills Group
by Tori Wolfe
Katherine Mendez and Justine Springs, two Speech-Language Pathology clinical faculty members in the School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, started offering an executive function therapy group in Spring 2022. “Executive function is the management system of the brain. It allows us to plan, set goals, and get things done,” Mendez and Springs explain. Some examples of executive functioning skills include the ability to pay attention, organize, plan, start tasks and focus until completion, understand different points of view, and regulate emotions. These types of skills are the primary skills that are affected by attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), language disorders, anxiety, depression, and traumatic brain injury can also affect executive functioning.
This pilot program, which is currently only accepting CSD students, is designed for anyone who experiences difficulties with executive functioning and would like to work on those challenges in a group. The goals of this program include:
- equipping the participants with strategies they can use when they are struggling, and
- creating a community where the students feel supported.
Graduate school is a very rigorous experience where students rely on many executive function skills for success. In addition, Mendez and Springs recognize that there is a “notable lack of support options for people with ADHD” in Memphis. They hope this program will help bridge the gap in available services for our students.
Mendez and Springs approach ADHD with a neurodiversity-affirming lens. They view ADHD as a difference that is neutral, rather than a disorder that is inherently negative or bad. Their goal is to highlight strengths that often accompany ADHD while also acknowledging and offering support for the challenges that clients experience.
One participant in this pilot program, Aaryn Boudreaux, described her experiences in the program. Boudreaux was not diagnosed with ADHD until she was in high school and has “been missing interactive support regarding executive function from the start.” Boudreaux explains, “Typically, when you receive a diagnosis, you discuss medication options and are given access to a handful of indirect supports aimed to lessen classroom demands. While extended time on tests is helpful, it is a short-term solution that applies only to that specific test.”
This group allows its participants to explore self-identified challenges related to executive function, workshop goals to address those areas, and enjoy a support system of individuals with shared experiences. Prior to participating in this therapy, Boudreaux was aware of the challenges she was experiencing with ADHD but did not know how to address them. Through the group, Boudreaux is developing a toolkit of strategies to overcome the added stressors and demands of executive function challenges. In addition, Boudreaux states that “there is also a great emotional-health benefit from the peer support network found within the group.”
When asked what they would say to an adult who thinks it is too late for them to benefit from a therapy like this, Mendez and Springs emphasized, “It is never too late! Our field is based on neuroplasticity and the idea that one can change their brain! Also, in circumstances where we aren’t able or interested in changing our brain, there is great value in finding a community who understands you and accepts you as you are.”