What is Executive Dysfunction in ADHD?

Executive function skills enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and manage multiple tasks. And despite it not being included in the DSM to diagnose ADHD up to 90% of adults and children with ADHD struggle with executive dysfunction, which impairs goal-directed behaviour.

Individuals with executive dysfunction struggle to organise materials, set their schedules, stick with tasks, and even regulate emotions. A common occurrence for individuals with executive dysfunction is that they misplace papers, reports, and other school or work materials – despite how necessary those things may be. They may also lose or misplace personal items, such as phones, eyewear, keys, and so on.

We all have executive functioning, and we all have certain areas of EF which we struggle with… however, the difference is that people with ADHD struggle with more areas of EF than the general public.

EF is separated into 7 main areas of regulation:

  1. Self-Awareness: commanding self-directed attention
  2. Self-Restraint: inhibiting yourself from doing something which you probably should not be doing at that point (ex. playing games instead of doing homework)
  3. Non-Verbal Working Memory: holding things in your mind to guide behaviour
  4. Verbal Working Memory: retaining internal speech
  5. Emotional: using words and images along with self-awareness to alter how you feel about things, so for example – if your friend doesn’t message you right after work as she told you she would, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about you, maybe she got stuck in traffic.
  6. Self-Motivation: motivating yourself to do things when no outside consequences exist, like motivating yourself to finish your assignments so you can graduate. People with bad executive functioning skills need closer goals than a graduation which is months/years away.
  7. Planning and Problem Solving: finding new approaches and solutions. Nevertheless, people with ADHD are very creative, and have high skills in thinking outside the box.

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