What IS Executive Function?
How do you recognize executive function challenges and how does that tie in with attentional issues (ADHD)? A newer working definition of ADHD from Thomas E Brown’s book, A New Understanding of ADHD in Children and Adults, says that “ADHD is a complex syndrome of developmental impairments of executive functions, the self-management system of the brain, a system of mostly unconscious operations. These impairments are situationally-specific, chronic, and significantly interfere with functioning in many aspects of the person’s daily life.”
In his book Smart But Stuck: Emotions in Teens with ADHD, Brown categorizes executive functioning this way:
Organizing tasks and materials, estimating time, prioritizing tasks, and getting started on tasks. People with ADHD often have difficulty with procrastination. This can be true even if they understand the high importance of a particular task.
Focusing, sustaining focus, and shifting focus to tasks.
Regulating alertness, sustaining effort, and working with adequate processing speed.
Managing frustration and modulating emotions. People describe chronic difficulties managing frustration, anger, worry, disappointment, and other emotions.
Utilizing working memory and accessing recall.
Monitoring and regulating self-action. Folks struggling with this aspect of executive function can have difficulty understanding the context of their interactions. They may have to work to recognize the reactions of others by “reading the room.” This also includes difficulty regulating the pace of actions, slowing or speeding up, as needed.
The website Understood.org organizes the categories this way:
The ability to stop and think before acting.
The ability to create and maintain systems.
Hard time with steps needed to organize, time management.
The ability to hold information in mind and use it to complete a task.
The ability to recognize when it is time to start a task.
Managing frustration and modulating emotions when thinking about goals.
Recognizing when someone is challenged by executive functions, and how this affects them, is the first step. In Parts 2 and 3 of our Executive Function series, learn how to help people struggling with executive functions.
Content courtesy of Betsy Alper, LICSW, and founder of A.D.D. Strategies and Solutions
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Learn more about 8 Key Executive Functions