Learning Visually

Executive Skills and Visual Learners

  Executive Function Skills

Our Executive Function System (EFS) is the "Air-traffic controller" of the brain. Located at the front part of the brain (frontal lobes), the Executive Function has the big job of taking in information via several modalities and to talk to the other regions of the brain. 

The EFS develops and matures through positive experiences and opportunities, which contributes to the quality of interactions with others and how an individual learns. To do this, the EFS controls and integrates a number of Thinking and Doing skills such as:

  • planning and prioritising,
  • accessing working memory,
  • directing attention,
  • problem solving,
  • verbal reasoning,
  • inhibiting extraneous ideas,
  • flexibility,
  • shifting attention,
  • time management
  • monitoring one’s actions

Executive skills rely on supportive, responsive interactions with adults to lay the foundation for the healthy development of these skills. By late adolescence, children need to be able to function with a reasonable degree of independence, able to plan and organise themselves (Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University). Therefore, positive experiences are essential to a child's development, as they lay the foundation for an efficient Executive Function System.


Some Field-tested Strategies to Support the Executive Skills of a Visual Learner

Diary Schedule, Flap Schedule, Calendar Schedule and a Symbol Schedule gives the visual learner clarity about what is expected of them. Time is often the enemy of a visual learner and so, a schedule enables them to "see" time through the sequence of events. 




Project Mapping (taken from AAPC Publishing’s Educational Resources)

Parents and Teachers have often observed that some visual learners have difficutly completing school projects involving a number of tasks. Meeting the demands of a school project and other similar activities requires the visual learner to Plan and Organise, two dimensions governed by the Executive Function System. If the visual learner has weak planning and organisation skills, then it will affect how they approach such tasks.  A useful strategy is to use Project Mapping.  Project Mapping is a strategy that uses task analysis, a calendar and sticky notes to organise and plan the steps needed to complete a complex multi-step report.   


Problem Solving Visual Map (taken from AAPC Publishing’s Educational Resources)

Due to weak or delayed Executive Skills, the visual learner may also be challenged by situations which involve problem solving. Problem solving is a sophisticated skill and most visual learners need support in this area. Mataya and Owens (2013) have developed a simple model for teaching how to problem solve. It involves the visual learner to identify the problem, then work through several alternatives for solving it. Below is a visual map that can be used to work through the problem solving process.


Compensate for their weak Executive Skills by increasing the use of Visual Supports. The Visual Support becomes a constant  point of reference and addresses independence and resilience.When we have a lot happening in our lives, we all resort to generating a list to help with our planning and organising. 

There is more to learn about Executive Skills, and for the visual learner it is important for teachers and parents to understand this concept and how it impacts on their day at school and at home. In my next blogs I will be discussing the Executive Skills of children with ADHD, ASD and Intellectual Disability. In the meantime, See and Hear more about Executive Function in the video below. Enjoy!