Executive Skills – Smart but Scattered

I saw an acquaintance recently who works as a speech and language therapist. She had a book on executive skills called “Smart but Scattered” by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, which had some interesting insights into different kinds of executive skills. I only had time for a quick scan through, but much of the information seems to fit with what the neurodivergent community has been saying about varying skill levels. It reminded me strongly of my previous attempts at representing the autistic spectrum in ways that don’t rely on a hierarchy of functioning labels. This representation is specific to executive skills, but deals with them in terms of strengths and weaknesses, rather than an acceptable “normal” profile and divergent profiles being treated as dysfunctional.

The book contains a questionnaire to help find out which skills you’re strong and weak in. It has different questionnaires for different age groups so that the questions can be matched to familiar tasks. If, like me, you don’t like the assumption that by a certain age you’re doing certain tasks, just pick the questionnaire that fits you or your child best in terms of what tasks you find yourself attempting.

These are the executive skills described in “Smart but Scattered” by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. I’ve changed the wording a little.

  • Response Inhibition
    • The capacity to think before you act – this ability to resist the urge to say or do something allows you time to evaluate a situation and how your behaviour might impact it.
  • Working Memory
    • The ability to hold information in your memory whilst performing complex tasks. It incorporates the ability to draw on past learning or experience to apply to the situation at hand or to project into the future.
  • Emotional Control
    • The ability to manage your emotions to achieve your goals, complete tasks, or control and direct your behaviour.
  • Sustained Attention
    • The capacity to keep paying attention to a situation or task in spite of distractability, fatigue or boredom.
  • Task Initiation
    • The ability to begin projects without undue procrastination, in an efficient and timely manner.
  • Planning/Prioritisation
    • The ability to create a roadmap to reach a goal or to complete a task. It also involves being able to make decisions about what’s important to focus on and what’s not important.
  • Organisation
    • The ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials, for example having specific locations for objects or information.
  • Time Management
    • The capacity to estimate how much time you have, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines. It also involves a sense that time is important.
  • Goal-Directed Persistence
    • The capacity to have a goal, follow through to the completion of the goal, and not be put off by or distracted by competing interests.
  • Flexibility
    • The ability to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information or mistakes. It relates to an adaptability to changing conditions.
  • Metacognition
    • The ability to observe how you behave, solve problems etc. It includes self-monitoring and self-evaluative skills, for example “How did I do?”


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