The role of syntax in supporting language processing and executive functioning

Language and executive functioning have a bidirectional relationship (Baron & Arbel, 2022; Larson, et al., 2019). This means that building language skills can impact executive functioning, and vice versa. 

A significant amount of executive functioning skills are required to comprehend language-based academic tasks like reading and writing. 

Yet strategic thinking (which is part of executive functioning) requires a significant amount of internal dialogue; which is very difficult to engage in without adequate vocabulary or ability to use and understand complex syntax (Fahy, 2014). 

Complex sentences are loaded with language that indicates cause and effect or temporal information; all which are essential for strategic planning. 

On top of that, many students continue to struggle with reading comprehension without direct work on foundational language skills; even if they’re taught comprehension strategies (Eberhardt, 2013; Scott, 2009; Scott & Koonce, 2014; Nippold, 2017).

One might make the argument then (which I often do), that these underlying language skills are necessary to developing strong executive functioning skills. 

This makes both treatment planning, diagnosis, and determining eligibility for educational programming complicated; especially when it comes to legal guidelines as well as state and local policies. 

That’s why in episode 166 of De Facto Leaders, I’m sharing a Q & A session I did in my Language Therapy Advance Foundations member’s group to talk about the relationship between syntax, processing and higher level cognitive processes like executive functioning. 

In this episode, I share: 

✅How to create a strategic plan if you need to build a system for language therapy and a system for executive functioning intervention?

✅Should you focus on the students' needs or your own needs when planning your professional development goals?

✅Common comorbidities and diagnoses to consider when focusing on language, executive functioning, and reading/writing.

✅The impact of syntax on other language and cognitive processes.

✅Common sentence types that are difficult for individuals with DLD and other diagnoses that impact language.

✅Ineffective strategies used to comprehend difficult sentence types.

✅Why do these difficult sentence types impact comprehension, processing, and our ability to engage in internal dialogue and strategic planning?

In this episode, I mention Language Therapy Advance Foundations, my program that helps SLPs create a system for language therapy. You can learn more about Language Therapy Advance Foundations here:

I also mentioned the School of Clinical Leadership, my program that helps related service providers develop a strategic plan for putting executive functioning support in place in collaboration with their school teams. You can learn more about that program here: 

You can view the YouTube version of this video with slides here:

I also mentioned the following resources:

Ultimate Guide to Sentence Structure :

​The 5 Component Language Therapy Framework:​

​Syntactic Development in the School-Age Years​​:​

K-12 Professional Learning: It’s about what the adults need, not just the kids:​

De Facto Leaders EP 159: Comorbidities and Differential Diagnosis:​

We’re thrilled to be sponsored by IXL and MyFlexLearning

IXL’s comprehensive teaching and learning platform for math, language arts, science, and social studies is accelerating achievement in 95 of the top 100 U.S. school districts. Loved by teachers and backed by independent research from Johns Hopkins University, IXL can help you simplify and streamline technology, reliably meet Tier 1 standards, improve assessment performance, and more. Visit today to learn more about how IXL can elevate your school or district.

MyFlexLearning is the scheduling platform that helps middle and high schools meet the individual needs of all students. Create and manage time for flex blocks, WIN time, activity periods, RTI, counselor and teacher appointments and much more. And with a built-in accountability tool and reporting features, solve your challenges around getting kids where they need to be and understanding how flex time is spent. Make your flex time work for you. Visit to learn more and receive $500 off the first year. 
The role of syntax in supporting language processing and executive functioning