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Speaking of Apps

Apps for Executive Functioning

Published November 27, 2012 2:17 PM by Megan Sutton
Executive functioning goals can be addressed using mainstream apps when a skilled therapist adds coaching and cueing. Executive functioning is the highest level of cognitive function - encompassing the ability to set goals, plan, initiate, and self-monitor with self-awareness and self-correction. Commonly impaired in brain injured individuals and children with multiple disabilities, executive functioning is a frequent target of therapy to maximize independence. While there is no single activity that can be practiced to remediate executive functioning, clients can practice these high-level skills in a variety of tasks. The goal of therapy is to improve their internal voice to approach all tasks asking "Am I able to do this in my current condition? Do I have what I need to complete this task? Do I know how long this will take me? Am I doing it right? Do I need to change anything? Am I finished? Did it go well?"

While I am not aware of any app that explicitly practices executive functioning, there are a variety of apps that require executive skills to complete games, puzzles, or activities. With a therapist providing the verbal model and asking the right questions, clients can approach these tasks as therapeutic activities to improve executive functioning. Two apps you may find useful to target executive goals include iMazing and Where's My Water - both universal and free for iOS.


iMazing is a simple maze game, consisting of 14 levels of difficulty without childish features. Challenge your clients to look from the starting point to the end and plan a way through. The goal is familiar and obvious: get from beginning to end. The app shows a green line as you trace your way forward through the maze and a red line when you backtrack. A screen covered in red lines may reveal poor planning or frequent self-correction. This visual can help clients see their errors and build insight. The app can be a bit sluggish to draw as fast as a finger can move, but take advantage of this aspect to see if clients recognize the delay and know how to deal with a small snag. The app identifies when the goal has been reached, making this a great tool to really focus on initiation and planning. Add self-awareness to the activity by asking the client to predict how long it might take or how many backtracks may be necessary. Review the maze at the end to discuss if expectations were met or what steps might improve performance on the next trial. Complete higher levels as necessary or move to a harder app as these goals are met.



Where's My Water (also available on Android) is a more challenging game that appeals to both children and adults. The free version has more than enough levels for therapeutic use, though the $0.99 full version provides several days worth of puzzles for the motivated client or ardent clinician. Each level challenges users to move water through obstacles to provide a friendly gator with a shower. The user must identify the water source, the end goal (a pipeline to the shower), and the various challenges in the way (rocks, mud, pesticide, algae, fans, and more) before cutting a path through the dirt for the water to follow. The user can plan how to reach the goal with or without collecting the three ducks along the way to add to the challenge.  When used in groups, clients can collaborate on solving each level, discussing what might happen, giving and following directions, and describing the obstacles - addressing language goals as well.


Other apps that focus on problem solving can be used similarly to provide stimulus for executive function goals. If your client enjoys physics or feeding candy to cute monsters, Cut the Rope Experiments is a good choice. If they prefer shooting games or killing pigs, Angry Birds will work.  These games are available on iOS and Android, making them available to more mobile users.  Think of how you can help your clients meet the following goals using their, or your, favorite games:

Client will ...

  • identify elements of the problem.
  • break the problem down into simpler elements.
  • generate at least 2 possible solutions.
  • exhibit mental flexibility by responding to changing circumstances.
  • perform self-correction and/or self-evaluation.


Which apps do you use to target executive functioning?



I really love the game Trainyard Express (which is a free and a full game in and of itself) and the sequel Trainyard (which is paid). Great app for problem solving and spatial orientation.

Nikki Schwartz, Counseling - Counselor Resident May 20, 2013 8:39 AM
Virginia Beach VA

As a special education teacher, I am interested in investigating how Apps can be used to support executive functioning in the classroom.  I think the point presented here is well taken: until Apps are developed for executive functioning, we can use existing Apps to do the following: 1. increase student awareness that these skills exist and are important (e.g. I can tell you what the tricep muscle is, but if I give you an exercise that makes you USE your tricep you have a much better idea), 2. assess students’ current level of proficiency, and 3. use fun and meaningful modalities to increase these skills.  

I am new to the world of Apps, and I am learning as quickly as possible.  It occurred to me that many hands make light work.  If we could get folks from a variety of fields to analyze how Apps could be used to support EF in different settings with different age groups, we could develop a very powerful forum.  

Some Apps I have looked at recently are 1. Visual Attention Lite, 2. The Stroop Effect and 3. Magic Attention Booster.  I would think that these Apps are more for secondary students.  I would love to know what folks thought about how useful they might be to support EF skills.  

Tim , Education - Teacher, Public November 27, 2012 4:47 PM
Fairfax VA

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About this Blog

    Speaking of Apps
    Occupation: Speech-Language Pathologist
    Setting: Rehabilitation
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