How Does Pediatric ABA Therapy Improve Executive Function?

Executive function (also referred to as executive functioning), which may sound like a broad term, is an integral piece of early childhood development. For children, executive functioning is essentially all of the tools children learn in order to excel in school, apart from the actual curriculum content. These skills are necessary in order to function and be productive throughout the day. Because executive function is used across all areas of daily life (home, school, and in the community), this is an important part of development that is not always explicitly taught in schools.

What are examples of executive function skills?
Organization skills are one part of executive functioning, but there are many other skills who fall under the umbrella. These include:

  • Planning and scheduling
  • Prioritizing tasks
  • Taking initiative to complete tasks
  • Self-evaluation skills
  • Memorization
  • Adaptability in thinking
  • Controlling emotions and impulses

Why is executive function important?
Executive function is extremely important for all children as they build independence in school and at home. While these skills may come easily to some children without much support, other children have significant difficulty building their executive functioning abilities. It is particularly common for children who are on the autism spectrum or experience a sensory processing disorder to exhibit issues with executive function. As a result, the goals of ABA therapy may often include targeting specific executive function skills.

How can ABA therapy improve executive function?
Because ABA therapy is evidence-based and focuses on the function of certain behaviors, an ABA therapist can help children to build positive executive function skills. Part of understanding the function of a behavior is also learning how certain environments can cause or affect a behavior. By gaining this insight in ABA therapy, the therapist can help the child to build positive executive function skills.


Let’s look at an example.

A child who is struggling with planning and scheduling may not be completing assignments because they do not use a planner or place worksheets in their take-home binder. An ABA therapist would look to understand the cause of this behavior (e.g. they are extremely anxious in class and too overwhelmed to process the teacher’s instructions to write down homework assignments). By using tactics such as positive reinforcement, for instance, the ABA therapist can help the child to build a habit of writing down assignments. By starting with a small goal in ABA therapy (e.g. writing down assignments), rather than taking on each executive function skill, it is more manageable for children to learn new positive behaviors.


Are you interested in ABA services for your child in the Chicago area? Contact us or call (773) 630-4400 to learn more about the range of services we provide for children who are on the autism spectrum at Chicago ABA Therapy, including applied behavior analysis therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology.