Executive Function Characteristics of Younger Adolescents Identified with Special Educational Needs

Kearvell-White, Jennifer (2020). Executive Function Characteristics of Younger Adolescents Identified with Special Educational Needs. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00011a04


Executive functioning (EF) was investigated in 134 young adolescents with Special Educational Needs (SEN) in comparison to 141 students not requiring additional support (Non-SEN peers). These students (11-14 years) completed standardized assessments of vocabulary, decoding and non-verbal reasoning, and verbal and non-verbal EF assessments of inhibition, executive working memory, switching and fluency. Significant group differences were found in all these measures (verbal switching excepted), but no significant differences were found between three SEN subgroups (school action, school action plus, and those with statements) apart from non-verbal inhibition. Cluster analyses suggested that despite significant group differences, both SEN and Non-SEN students were often included in the same clusters. Confirmatory factor analysis suggested that the best model of EF performance for the SEN group involved an immature organisation.

Parents, teachers and students completed the BRIEF questionnaire for ‘inhibit’, ‘working memory’ and ‘shift’. All three groups provided significantly different ratings for the SEN and Non-SEN groups, although the ratings varied for each group. Teachers also completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and analyses revealed significantly higher concerns for the SEN group.

Binary logistic regressions were conducted to identify predictors of SEN status. Significant predictors from just the EF variables included inhibition, switching/shift and fluency. In the final analysis which included the three standardized assessments the significant predictors were decoding and the BRIEF ‘shift’ construct.

The findings have increased the limited knowledge about the characteristics of young adolescent students with SEN. These students were identified as having significantly lower EF abilities than their Non-SEN peers; the structural organization of the EF abilities appears similar to younger individuals, and the most important predictors of their SEN status were decoding and shift. Task management and inflexibility (‘shift’) were important issues for coping with the demands of early secondary school life.

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  • Item ORO ID
  • 72196
  • Item Type
  • PhD Thesis
  • Keywords
  • neuropsychology; children with disabilities; self-management for teenagers; self-control in adolescence; attention in adolescence
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS)
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 2020 The Author
  • Depositing User
  • Jennifer Kearvell-White