ADHD Basics: The Executive Function

ADHD Executive FunctionADHD is a developmental delay of the brain’s self-management system or executive functioning. Simply put, we’re just wired differently. Having ADHD, planning, prioritizing, and ignoring distractions takes extra effort. It’s incredibly frustrating for our parents and loved ones. We’re often labeled as careless, lazy, flaky & …fill in the blank.  However, reminding us of our failures and repeatedly saying “If you just tried harder” doesn’t help. We genuinely do try harder than our peers… it’s exhausting because it never seems to be enough. So, yes, sometimes we do just give up. We might act like we don’t care about our grades or how you view us, but we really do. Understanding our challenges in the 6 areas of executive functioning is the first step in supporting your child with ADHD.

  • Task management: The ADHD brain has difficulty getting started. We specialize in procrastination. (We might publish our BLOG about ADHD on the very last day of ADHD awareness month.) It’s like you’re the CEO of a company and you’re trying to have a meeting. But your brain is the secretary who lets in every random person off the street or no one at all. Breaking things down into smaller tasks with immediate time limits, making it fun and interesting whenever possible, and encouraging even smallest effort helps us develop better habits.
  • Attention management: Attention “Deficit” Hyperactive Disorder is not an actual deficit of attention but rather the ADHD brain is deficient of chemicals (dopamine and norepinephrine) that help us regulate our attention. This is why we’re often impulsive and have trouble prioritizing tasks. Hyperactive doesn’t just mean bouncing off the walls with an open jar of glitter. Hyperactive is also internal restlessness. Our brains have trouble shutting down and random thoughts can keep us awake at night. However, our overactive mind fuels our creativity and curiosity. In fact, we’re 3 times more likely to start our own business. Encourage our interests.
  • Effort management: We may have trouble staying alert without constant stimulation or feedback, we process information slower, both mentally and physically. Learning to read and or write can be challenging and to avoid being labeled as “dumb” by our peers we may rush through assignments making numerous mistakes. We’re not always aware of our surroundings or immediate danger even if you just mentioned it seconds ago. If we’re hyperactive it takes us time to slow down, “It’s like driving a Ferrari with bicycle brakes”.  Give us positive feedback and encouragement so we can become more self-aware and disciplined in our day to day.
  • Emotional management: Our brains also have trouble regulating emotions. We can be highly sensitive, and our impulsive nature often draws negative attention and constant criticism. We start believing we have personality defects, and our self-esteem and relationships suffer as a result. ADHD is often linked with depression and anxiety. Despite our sensitivity, we’re more likely to show empathy and be attentive to the needs of others. Validation helps us process our emotions in a healthier way.
  • Information management (working memory and recall): It can be challenging for us to retain information while learning a new step or executing simple chores. Middle school math can be a nightmare. If you ask us to clean our room, we may build a well-designed Lego city instead of putting them away. Break expectation into smaller tasks that have an immediate beginning and end and then…maybe play Legos with us when were done.
  • Action management: Though most of us grow out of it by early adulthood, we can be hyperactive and impulsive, blurt out inappropriate comments, and we’re not great at “reading the room”. Our impulsivity makes it harder to learn from previous mistakes and by the end of elementary, we’re labelled as “annoying” and have a hard time keeping friends. But we’re also adventurous and are open to exploring new possibilities if you believe in us.

A healthy diet, regular exercise, routine, and structure is crucial. Above all, we need your understanding and encouraging our smallest efforts helps us learn and grow into happy, healthy, responsible, and cooperative adults.

Shaharzade Ebrahimi, LCSW supports the families of children with ADHD as a therapist in our Family Tree Program.