How ADHD Can Impact Executive Function

How Does ADHD Affect Our Executive Functioning?

Working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibition - these are what can be affected when you have executive dysfunction due to ADHD. How does ADHD affect our executive functioning? What symptoms can you experience? The answers and more in this article. 

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The ADHD Executive Function Effects that you Need to Know

Before we discuss the executive functioning skills that tend to be affected by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, let's start by discussing the two medical terms involved in this topic, ADHD and executive functions of the brain.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, better known as ADHD, is a neurodivergent disorder associated with the lack of brain chemical production 🧠, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. This mental health condition usually impedes an individual's focus, concentration, and motivation. It is a chronic mental health disorder that needs an official diagnosis by a medical professional 👩‍⚕️  . It starts in childhood and continues to persist into adulthood, with the symptoms possibly getting worse without treatment. The presence of ADHD can produce different struggles for an individual regardless of how old they are. 

On the other hand, executive functioning skills or executive functions are a set of mental processes that help us plan, organize and remember details 🤔. A person's executive function also handles their working memory, flexible or critical thinking, and self-control. The comprehensive executive function inventory, as a whole, is a necessary prefrontal cortex brain process that helps us go through our daily lives and ensure that we are doing the things we are supposed to be doing.

Now that we established how the brain's self-management system operates and what Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is, let us now discuss how ADHD affects a person's executive function 👌.

More on Working Memory, Controlling Impulses, and Problem-Solving Skills

Reports confirm that Executive Function may be composed of three areas: 

  • Working Memory, which includes Short-term Memory Utilization
  • Cognitive Flexibility, which can help in Problem-Solving. 
  • Inhibitory Control, which pertains to Self- Control. 

Each of these types of executive functioning skills is integral to our day-to-day activities, so it is essential to know how ADHD might affect each one.

Working Memory

Are you familiar with how an Internet Cookie works? Cookies are small blocks of information - like your username or password - used to identify your computer as you use a computer network 🍪. They can track and collect data from your browser and then send them back to the website owner.  In default settings, our memory is like an internet cookie. It allows us to remember the things we need for a short period, long enough to perform a task. 

For many people with ADHD, our internet cookie settings may reject or forget some of the information it is trying to collect, which can often lead to different problems. It can be as minor as forgetting verbal instructions that were just relayed to us shortly before or difficulties retrieving information about a specific event 😅. Working memory can also be affected by the way we pay attention. 

In other words, when you have ADHD, you might be forgetful of small details. This might affect how well you do tasks. 

Inhibitory Control

This executive functioning branch refers to our ability to resist temptation 💪. Therefore, it allows us to focus on the task at hand. It also provides self-awareness and monitors different environmental stimuli to respond appropriately. For those struggling with ADHD, it is often difficult to control their thoughts and impulses, leading to problems in school or work.

Self-regulation, which dictates the difference between making impulsive decisions and taking the time to think about a decision before acting on it, is an essential skill we learn as we grow up. It allows us to make better decisions and avoid potential problems. Many people with this neurodivergent disorder might not be able to control their impulses which can often lead to them getting into trouble 😔 .

Critical Thinking Flexibility

Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to think of something in more than one way. Scientific studies suggest that individuals with ADHD can be creative, with a think-outside-the-box mentality. This can result from their hyperactive brain state, as they constantly seek new stimulation to keep them occupied. However, this same thinking style can also lead to difficulties in more mundane tasks that require focus and attention to detail🥺.

For example, an adult with ADHD might have trouble following instructions because they are so used to thinking creatively and outside the box. They might also have difficulty with time management ⏰ because they are not used to a strict schedule. Critical thinking flexibility is essential, but it can be difficult for those with ADHD to use this skill in more traditional settings.

Having an affected executive function can lead to struggles that affect how we do things daily. We may have difficulties maintaining the social skills needed to interact with others, lose interest in specific subjects, or  have trouble with time management, affecting our capacity to finish tasks on time. These are some of the executive function problems that we tend to experience.

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The ADHD Executive Dysfunction Involving Certain Activities

Some people with ADHD are prone to experience deficits in executive functioning skills because of how our brains are wired. One of the possible differences between individuals with ADHD and neurotypicals is how our brains process and store information.

Here are some notable executive dysfunction examples in the context of real-world activities:

Task Initiation and Starting Work

One executive dysfunction that can frequently happen to some adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is lack of drive or motivation to actually start work. Most of the time, we can get too excited about doing long-term projects and hyperfocus on details but often fail at execution 😅. It is likely our executive functioning that makes us feel this way.

start working

The trouble with starting doing activities that we are intended to do, sustaining interest in following our plans, and failing to complete tasks, especially if it is time-bound, will always be part of our struggles. Those with ADHD can easily feel demotivated with their projects or may always find difficulties organizing everything 🥺 (not to mention that we tend to be perfectionists in everything that we do).

Regulating Impulsivity and Accomplishing Everything

Did I not mention that we tend to drop activities and fail to finish them? Yes, I did. But since one of the affected activities of our executive function is the ability to plan and organize, we also find it hard to juggle different tasks, particularly those we feel we can do simultaneously due to our impulsivity. 

regulating impulsivity

We tend to plan the day, thinking we have the time, energy, and interest to finish everything in one go. However, moments later, we find ourselves shifting attention to a completely irrelevant activity (like watching Facebook reels) and not finishing anything at all 😭.

Our impulsive behavior of wanting to finish tasks all at once can make us feel overwhelmed, which can lead us not to want to do anything. It can also make us act without thinking first, which might result in doing the wrong things or hurting our emotions.

Managing Emotions and Feelings of Rejection

One ADHD struggle that I cannot fully overcome well is how to manage and regulate emotions. 

When I was younger, I often felt too much anger and sadness, which often resulted in me crying my heart out because of stress. There were also moments when people would share feedback with me, but I didn’t take them well. I knew that what they were doing would help me improve how I presented myself, but, to be honest, I was not comfortable listening to them because I felt rejected by these criticisms😔.

managing emotions

That's why many adults with ADHD need to self-monitor and learn to keep their emotions in check. We need to be more aware of how we feel and react to different situations accordingly to control ourselves better and not let our emotions get the best of us. This way, we can still enjoy life and relationships despite our challenges.

Being Forgetful and Utilizing Memory

Medically reviewed documents and research tell that a person's short-term memory can also be affected by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These executive function skills allow an individual to remember things long enough to perform a task. When this executive function is affected, we tend to miss deadlines 📅 , misplace our things often, or even forget other helpful report documents that we need for our tasks.

utilizing memory

Aside from that, our working memory is also a bit different from most people. We often struggle to remember things in the sequence that they happened or the order in which we are supposed to do something. It can be tricky to place a set of instructions or a list of items we need to buy or do 📝. That's why with verbal working memory, breaking down instructions into smaller chunks can help a lot.  Writing things down and then saying them out loud to remember them easily can also be helpful. 

Staying Focused and Maintaining Efforts

Did you know that it took me a while to finish this article 😅? Aside from keeping the content accurate by checking only high-quality sources and medically reviewed articles, I often get sidetracked with checking my inbox, signing different online newsletters, or getting caught up in non-substantial updates on social media sites 📱. I cannot impose self-restraint doing these activities, and because of this, it took me several days to finish writing this article when I could have quickly done it in one sitting.

staying focused

The trouble staying focused and maintaining an effort towards work or any activity can be attributed back to the affected executive functions in our brain 🧠. It can be difficult to keep track of time and focus on a task for an extended time without getting distracted. That's why we often need reminders, notes, or an alarm ⏲️ to help us get back on track. There are also plenty of tools out there to help us overcome the struggle of these ADHD symptoms and all the executive function problems that we tend to encounter.

staying focused

How ADHD can impact executive function

How ADHD Can Impact Executive Function: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What are executive functions?

Executive functions are a set of mental processes that help us to plan and organize our behavior. They include our:Working memory,Planning skillsProblem solving skillsInhibitory control (the ability to stop yourself from doing something), andCognitive flexibility (the ability to adapt your thinking in response to new information)

Does ADHD affect executive functions?

Reports suggest that ADHD does affect executive functions. This is why, if you have ADHD, it can be hard to keep track of time, get your work done on time, or even remember what you need to do in the first place.

How do you deal with executive dysfunction when you have ADHD?

There are many ways to manage your executive dysfunction. You can use a planner or calendar to write down upcoming appointments and important tasks, so that they don't slip your mind. You can also use mobile apps or a to-do list. 

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