What is Executive Functioning, and what does it have to do with ADHD?

Have you ever noticed your mind being pulled in several different directions at one time, but somehow you’re able to reign it all in? I think we need to thank a little system called executive functioning for that. Located in the prefrontal cortex of our brains, Executive functioning has several jobs. 

From making decisions and planning tasks to regulating emotions and controlling impulses, we can call executive functioning, “The Brain’s Organization and Regulation Center”. In this blog post, we will dive into the  realm of executive functioning, and why those with ADHD may tend to struggle with certain tasks more than others. 

Understanding Executive Functioning:

The formal definition of executive functioning is: 

A cognitive skill set that assists us with  self-regulation so we can effectively plan, prioritize, and sustain effort towards our long term goals. 

This skill set includes:

  • Working Memory: The ability to hold and process information for a short period of time.
  • Response Inhibition: The ability to control impulsive behaviors and resist distractions.
  • Set Switching: The ability to shift attention between different tasks and/or mental processes.
  • Planning and Organization: Developing strategies, setting goals, and organizing tasks to achieve short term and long term goals.
  • Initiation: The ability to initiate tasks without severe procrastination and starting activities independently.
  • Emotional Regulation: Managing and controlling emotional responses to various stimuli.

Executive functioning plays an important role in everyday life. Academic success, professional achievements, and personal relationships all are impacted by one’s level of executive functioning. 

Strong executive functioning skills contribute to effective problem-solving, goal attainment, and adaptive functioning. 

Challenges in executive functioning can lead to difficulties in time management, planning, and emotional regulation, impacting various aspects of an individual’s life.

Now that you understand what executive functioning is, I’m sure you can see how it relates to ADHD. If not, click here to learn more on what ADHD is and how it may typically affect someone.

The link between ADHD & Executive Functioning:

With ADHD being a neurodevelopmental disorder, it can also be categorized as an overall dysfunction of executive functioning. Those with ADHD can be perceived as immature due to the fact that the growth of executive functioning in someone with ADHD develops at a 3 year deficit than those who don’t have ADHD.

Here’s an example of how this might look. Those with ADHD may suffer from a lack of impulse control. This may look like blurting out answers, interrupting people in the middle of the sentences, or buying items without a second thought.

Impulse control also directly connects with emotional regulation. Those with ADHD may have a harder time managing their feelings, causing them to have an outburst of rage, excitement, or sadness. Their feelings may seem exaggerated, but in actuality, they feel their emotions on a grand scale and often do not have the means to be able to think through their feelings before acting on them.

Remember that ADHD is a spectrum disorder and has three different levels of severity (mild, moderate, severe). Behavioral interventions, therapy, educational support, and, in some cases, medication, are all proven successful methods of treatment for ADHD.

By recognizing and addressing these challenges, individuals with ADHD can develop effective strategies to enhance their executive functioning and improve overall daily functioning.

Having the ability to connect ADHD and executive functioning is crucial when creating interventions and support strategies.Thankfully, you don’t have to do this alone!

Kristen Sessoms is one of our Atlanta therapists and an ADHD coach who has ADHD herself. Through time, personal experience, and a master’s level education, she has developed different interventions to assist adults and children alike with developing specific skills and changes that can lead to success.

Please click here to learn more about working with Kristen, and sign up for your free consultation call today!

About Kristen Sessoms

Kristen provides individual therapy to adults, adolescents, and children, and couples and family therapy to adults. She also provides parenting support groups, and premarital workshops and groups.