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Common Sense is Not So Common

by on 14/04/2021 4492

By Lee Chui Ki (Occupational Therapist at Oasis Place)

Imagine your brain is the air traffic control tower in a busy airport managing arrivals and departures of different airlines over multiple runways. Your brain is constantly organising, filtering distractions, prioritising tasks, setting and achieving goals and controlling impulses. This skill is known as executive functioning and allows us to act in a goal-directed manner day to day.

The ability to plan and follow a schedule, keep track of time and responsibilities, complete work and participate in day-to-day activities like cooking, washing up, and getting dressed, may seem like “common sense” and intuitive. But most of us do not remember exactly when we first established and mastered these autonomous tasks. These skills are a collaboration of many processes that we have learned, practised and developed over time.

A child first begins to develop executive functioning skills through their interactions with their physical and social environment, established routines, as well as modelling behaviour. It is also important for children to practice these skills through activities that foster creativity and social connections. One such method is through play. Play provides children with opportunities to learn to think flexibly, observe others’ perspectives, cope with stress, problem solve, and learn to control their own actions.

Image: Florida Family Living

When a child has difficulties with executive functioning, there are three main areas that may be affected: 

  1. Working memory. The ability to hold on to and manipulate information for the purpose of completing a specific related task. Children who have challenges with working memory are likely to appear ‘forgetful’ and may forget information quickly, misplace their belongings regularly or forget sequences for tasks. 
  2. Mental Flexibility. This skill helps us with sustaining attention, as well as being able to move from a situation, activity or aspect in response to the situational demands. Children who face challenges with being able to think flexibly may appear stuck on ideas or problems, or unable to formulate and/or match appropriate solutions to problems. They may also face challenges with being able to take another person’s perspective which may lead to awkward social interactions. 
  3. Inhibitory Control. Being able to modulate and control our emotional response to a situation or a stressor enables us to refrain from acting on impulse. This skill enables us to slow down, think through our actions and make the right decisions for the situation in order to get things done. An inability to control oneself may result in having emotional reactions that do not match the problem, being easily upset, going too easily off task or even being unable to stop oneself from participating in inappropriate behaviours[FY4] .

Image: ADDtitude magazine

 When a child experiences difficulties with executive functioning, they may:

  1. Have trouble initiating and/or completing tasks (i.e. beginning or completing homework, transitioning from play to mealtimes etc).
  2. Be unable to prioritise appropriately.
  3. Difficulty in following directions or a sequence.
  4. Find coping with change challenging.
  5. Have trouble organising their thoughts and belongings.
  6. Have difficulties moving on.
  7. Find it difficult to find appropriate solutions to problems.
  8. Have overly emotional responses to situations.
  9. Have trouble keeping track of their time.

Children can develop their executive functioning skills in a multitude of structured and fun and creative ways: 

  1. To-do lists with visuals.
  2. Use of visual aids to break down tasks into a step-by-step guide.
  3. Participation in activities that require adherence to a sequence, such as cooking or crafts.
  4. Encourage active participation in goal setting and planning the steps required to achieve that goal.
  5. Mind mapping or scaffolding.
  6. Building games like blocks, legos.
  7. Recall/memory games.
  8. Imaginary play can also be effective in allowing children to explore different situations and consequences, and figure out how to overcome said situations.
  9. Impulse control games such as “What’s the Time Mr. Wolf” and other games that involve a ‘traffic light’, Simon Says, Freeze Dance or Musical Chairs.
  10. Strategy games such as Chess, Checkers, Battleship or Chinese Checkers. 


Children are not born with executive functioning skills but they are born with the potential to develop them. If you feel your child may be facing challenges in these areas, it is always good to consult a professional who can help pinpoint the specific areas of difficulties and provide natural and functional learning opportunities for your child.


Main Image: Pea and pod chiropractic



Oasis Place, located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, is Malaysia’s largest multidisciplinary intervention centre, embracing a client-centered approach through transdisciplinary intervention. We offer all our assessment and therapy services onsite at our centre, offsite at schools, and online through OPConnect. At Oasis Place, helping people learn and grow is at the heart of everything we do. We work with all learning different individuals - from Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia to Down Syndrome. Our core services are Psychology, Speech & Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Music Therapy, Continuous Education and Nutrition.  

For more information on our services, please visit our website at , Facebook at OasisPlaceMalaysia, Instagram and Twitter @OasisPlaceMY

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