Executive functions are clusters of 'overseeing' brain activities that include regions to make decisions, focus attention attention, inhibit certain impulses, and allocate memory resources. Executive functions are often at the center of research on ADD and ADHD.
In this recent paper from the University of Minnesota, there's new information that spatial memory, spatial multi-tasking (keeping different bits of visual information 'in mind'), and visual strategy undergo dramatic development from ages 9-10 to 18-20.
The youngest group (age 9-10) were the lowest performing for all of the visual-spatial tests, and in fact, improvements in memory and the ability to organize visual searches strategically or in an orderly fashion continued to improve between the ages of 16-17 and 18-20, so that the central 'Executive' was still getting a lot smarter into young adulthood.
It's important to look at study such as this (sorry, can't share the original publication with you as it's not yet Free Access) because it cautions us about accepting developmentally unrealistic expectations for executive functioning in school children. Admittedly we're in a situation to see kids who are having trouble in the school system, but why should some kids are made to feel like they're failing life when even though they're only 7 or 13 years old and still developing? Our most common referral age for possible ADHD is 7 years old, and some studies have suggested ADD / ADHD incidence as high as 5-10% of all boys. Do we really think all these kids need to be on meds?
There has been a lot of new information coming out about the normal course of cognitive development in kids, and this is all good. But we hope the right people are listening. There are profound implications here for the re-structuring of education and assessment, not to mention behavioral or psychological strategies for diagnosing.
As for us parents, we think the take-home point for this study should be that we should try to be more patient, try to be more encouraged, and try to be more encouraging. Growing up our 'Executives' takes time for everybody, and there's a lot to do in the meantime.
Kids and Teens: The Evolution of Multi-tasking and Memory