Executive Function and ADHD Primer

Executive Functions and ADHD Primer


Executive Function (EF) is a term we hear so often that what it means is assumed to be common knowledge, but is it really? We know it’s somehow tied up with ADHD, school performance or lack thereof, organization skills, etc.  But how and why?  Here is an executive function and ADHD primer to help you.

Executive Functions are located in the brain’s Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) behind the forehead and represent the skills that help you get things done. Although you may have a child diagnosed with an Executive Function Disorder (EFD), it is not a true medical condition.  Rather, it’s a weakness in the brain’s self-management system.

There are some discrepancies in research regarding whether some people are born with weak EFs or if they don’t develop properly over time.  We do know that the frontal lobe is the last part of the brain to mature, with EF growth spurts along the way. In addition, people with anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities are prone to have issues with these skills. It is safe to conclude that people have predispositions for stronger or weaker EFs at birth, but they are developed as children grow during adolescence and then in adulthood.

So then, what does EF weakness have to do with ADHD?

First, ADHD is a medical diagnosis, and many ADHD symptoms create problems with EF, in particular, skills that help you:

  • Pay attention
  • Remember things
  • Organize tasks
  • Manage time
  • Think creatively

Signs of Students with an EFD:
• Chronically messy backpack
• Easily distracted
• Teacher needs to repeat directions several times
• Consistently unprepared for class
• Misplaces papers and homework
• Homework is often incomplete
• Rushes through work
• Multiple, simple errors on work
• Neglecting to use a planner or other “organizational” tools
• Difficulty with long term projects
• Does not learn from past mistakes
• Easily frustrated
• Lacks motivation
• Often a mismatch between intelligence and performance
• Memory issues

It may seem that an EFD is a student issue that kids grow out of but that is actually not true.  Children with EF weaknesses grow into adults with EF weaknesses.  The difference is maturity, acceptance, and finding coping skills that help.  More about that in my next blog article!