ADHD and
Executive Function Skills

There are many ways to define ADHD. It could be called a challenge of executive function since the brain is inefficient in planning, organizing, remembering and self-regulating. These executive functions including impulse control and managing emotional reactions are controlled by the prefrontal cortex which is weaker in ADHDers.

 

This means the ADHD brain is typically more emotional, wired for interest, living in the now. Approximately 11% of children are now diagnosed with ADHD, 3 – 5% of teens and 4.4% of adults, according to the CDC.

 

The numbers for teens and adults will increase since you don’t grow out of ADHD; many are diagnosed later.

Neuroscience, brain imaging, and clinical research tell us a few important things: ADHD is not a behavior disorder nor a mental illness or a specific learning disability. ADHD is, instead, a developmental impairment of the brain’s self-management system.

ADHD Iceberg

What is the impact of ADHD?

Most importantly, there is not “one” version of ADHD; it manifests in different ways for each person and changes over time. For many, they process differently than the standard rules required in schools and workplaces, and often see more failure than success. There is a shortage of attention because the brain can’t tolerate being bored and will do anything for stimulation. Impulsivity (action without foresight) is what gets one into trouble as well as always questioning authority or the rules. For most, the working memory is weak which causes forgetfulness.

Dr. Nora Volkow was the first researcher to call ADHD a deficit of interest. She found lower levels of dopamine receptors in two key regions of the ADHD brain which impact the reward system. This helps explain the propensity for drug use, obesity, and other addictive behaviors.

Boredom for ADHDers is like kryptonite!
The brain is constantly searching for something interesting.

 Coaching empowers you to find creative ways to get through the unavoidable boring tasks.
(Not has hard as you think!)

A key trait of ADHD is distraction, the inability to pay attention and focus. Experts believe this is due to insufficient levels of the neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine helps stimulate the brain and is needed to motivate us to do anything. Norepinephrine is needed to help us focus.  Medication corrects the way these neurotransmitters operate. Exercise and diet also improve neurotransmitter activity.

People with ADHD require a lot of patience, forgiveness, and love. Remember, just because they made a mistake doesn’t mean they aren’t trying. When your student or husband or daughter forgets or behaves impulsively (even after  promising to behave) don’t get mad, get curious. Don’t assume they are lazy – maybe their working memory wasn’t strong enough to take in all the information. Maybe they got distracted by another thought. Maybe they got bored with the conversation (no offense). Or maybe they lost focus at that critical moment when the instructions were being given.

What is a solution?

ADHD Coaching is an effective tool and collaborates well with therapy and/or medication. Coaching is about action and moving forward. It’s about learning how your ADHD impacts your life and how to develop the skills or strategies to tackle the roadblocks. A coach will be your partner to improve how you learn, to confidently manage attention, distractions and impulsivity and  to empower you to experience a balanced and productive future.

A brief explanation of Executive Function Skills:

Defined by Dr. Russell Barkley: “Executive function skills are the skills that help us establish structures and strategies for managing projects and determining the actions required to move each project forward.”

In other words, our executive function skills are the conductor of the brain.  Those with strong Executive Function Skills can look at a To-Do list, determine which items are priority, judge the time needed and complete the list with efficiency. For those with weaker Executive Function Skills, just writing a list can seem monumental. Or they write the list but forget to look at it. People with weak executive function skills have trouble controlling emotions or impulses, have trouble listening, have trouble organizing and planning, and may display socially inappropriate behavior. 

Executive Function Skills Text
  • Working Memory – the ability to hold information in your head while processing something else.

  • Organization – ability to use time and things efficiently

  • Time Management – estimating time to complete a task

  • Metacognition – self-awareness – knowing & owning strengths and weaknesses.

  • Planning/Prioritizing – process of creating a roadmap to complete a task or project

  • Emotional Control – managing emotions to fit the social situation

  • Response Inhibition – process to think before acting.

  • Impulsivity Sustained Attention – process to stay focused even when distracted, feeling fatigued or bored

  • Task Initiation – stay with the task, without procrastination, until it’s in a timely fashion.

  • Flexibility – able to go with the flow, changing behavior in response to unforeseen circumstances