Several weeks ago, after a long day at work, I arrived at my house and first stopped to check my mail for anything important. My heart dropped as I saw a letter from the Prince George’s County district court house, I had been summoned for jury duty.
Somehow, I had managed to avoid jury duty until this dreadful moment. My day arrived for me to complete my civic responsibility and serve as a juror.
Upon entering the courthouse, I was in awe of all of the law enforcement personnel, attorneys dressed in nice suits and the mere presence of the judges was astonishing. As most people were visibility upset, I was suddenly intrigued by the judicial system and the legal process.
My number was called and I along with seventy other people filed into the courtroom and awaited our fate to see if we would be selected to serve as one of twelve potential jurors. The preceding case involved a teenager that was involved with in an extortion deal involving several other young boys from his neighborhood. I could not help but to contemplate if this young boy was truly guilty or if he had simply made a terrible decision.
Either way, the young man’s fate would soon be determined by twelve individuals that most likely did not want to serve as a juror. While this could be an issue of the judicial selection process of jurors, the bigger issue in my estimation was the decision making ability of this young man.
In my few months as a practicing School Psychologist, I have found that the decision making ability of many of my students I work with appears to be severely impaired. In the article Assessing Executive Functions: A Life-Span Perspective, Cecil Reynolds states “in criminal proceedings where life and liberty may be at stake for a minor, an understanding of his or her executive functioning can be crucial” (Reynolds, 2008).
Unfortunately for this young man, it did not appear that he had a School Psychologist on his legal team to identify any deficits in executive functioning. For many young teenagers the court system is not empathetic if the crime was due to a bad decision or an executive functioning impact. However, in the school system I agree that an understanding of executive functioning is essential to helping students.
The article discusses that executive functioning has a key role in monitoring, planning and evaluating adaptive behavior through the life span of an individual. Furthermore, executive functions also include mental functions such as decision making, inhibition, sequencing, and development of plans of action and motor outputs. Reynolds states “executive functions are cognitively active” (Reynolds, 2008), which involves adaptive behavior that is expressed externally such as making the decision to begin a task. It is important to note that executive functioning has been identified and is associated with the frontal lobe of the brain. Reynolds cites the importance of the frontal lobe in adding that the frontal lobe “involve self-regulatory behavior, generative behavior, meta-cognition and working memory” (Reynolds, 2008).
Reynolds discusses neuroscientist A.R. Luria who developed a theoretical framework for understanding higher level and more complex mental abilities. Luria’s model are based on Lev Vygotsky’s theory of language and thought processes. This theory posits that an individual’s environment and culture influence and have a important role in the development of neurological structures such as abstract thinking, memory and executive function.
In my practice as a School Psychologist in my school district, I utilize the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF). The BRIEF consists of two rating forms, a parent questionnaire and a teacher questionnaire, which is designed to evaluate and measure executive functioning in the home and school settings. The BRIEF is useful in evaluating children with developmental and acquired neurological conditions.
The main measure of executive functioning that I use is the Conner’s – Third Edition Behavior Rating Scale. The Conners Rating Scale is one tool that I use to assess a student’s behavior as they relate to a clinical profile of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This rating scale has a subscale that identifies executive functioning.
What are some measures that you use in assessing executive functioning? No matter what assessment you use, according to Cecil Reynolds, understanding executive functioning is crucial, as life and liberty of our students may be at stake!
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