How Are Executive Functions Assessed?
Given the complex nature of EF, it is not surprising that there is no single assessment that can measure all aspects of EF. In addition, there are problems associated with assessing EF through performance-based measures because in these situations, the examiner often performs the majority of tasks that are related to EF (for example, tasks are initiated by the examiner; the test situation is planned and well organized; the goals of the test are pre-established; the assessment room is quiet and free from distractions; and tasks for the most part are time-limited and novel).
There are a number of different neuropsychological assessments that attempt to tap into parts of the executive functions. The Wisconsin Card Sorting Test and the Category Test are two tests that attempt to measure how an individual responds to finding the rule for solving a set of problems and then how the individual responds when given a new set of problems that cannot be solved by using the old rule. The theory is that those who experience problems have deficits in their ability to shift strategies between tasks, which is one component of EF. However, specific test responses may not capture the complex nature of how an individual solves problems about life on a daily basis. Also, problem solving in reality is far more complex and requires an individual to take many more factors into consideration. Currently, the test batteries (a test that includes several different components) that are available to evaluate executive functions in children, such as the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System, often require considerable time to administer and expertise in neuropsychology. Procedures that can assist in determining brain scan activity, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are cost prohibitive for most clinicians.
However, rating scales have been developed to rate a number of behaviors that are associated with EF. One of the most popular rating scales is the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF), which has rating forms for parents and teachers of children aged two to eighteen and a self-report form for children aged eleven to eighteen (Gioia, Isquith, Guy, & Kenworthy, 2000). The BRIEF provides scores for Behavioral Regulation (Inhibit, Shift, and Emotional Control scales) and Metacognition (Initiate, Working Memory, Plan/Organize, Organization of Materials, and Monitor scales), as well as an overall score for EF. The higher the scores on the BRIEF scales, the more serious the problem is. The instrument is reliable and has been used in a number of research studies.
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