Executive functions and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADD and ADHD, often go hand-in-hand. In fact, when a doctor screens a patient for ADD and ADHD, deficiencies in executive functions are some of the most important signs they look for. There are several ways to examine for ADD and ADHD, but they all serve the same purpose: to ensure that a child’s cognitive development is progressing normally. When a child has ADD and ADHD, they tend to have issues sitting still, focusing their attention, and staying motivated for an extended period of time. These are measurable traits, and a general executive function screening can serve to identify these signs. A child with ADD and ADHD may not have problems with every executive function, but they are likely to struggle with several at a time. Here are executive function deficiencies that may be warning signs of ADD and ADHD:
Focus describes the level of attention a person is able to devote to a particular subject. People with ADD and ADHD have a tendency to become distracted by the activities around them and even their own thoughts. The ability to focus often depends on situational factors. If an individual is genuinely interested in a certain hobby or type of entertainment, focusing can be relatively easy for them. On the other hand, if they are less interested in the content, in this example: reading, they will have to read the same content over repeatedly just to interpret the big idea. People with ADD and ADHD may exhibit varying degrees of this behavior, although sometimes it is very obvious.
Regulating emotion is an important executive function that typically developing children can – for the most part – easily control. For individuals with ADD and ADHD, on the other hand, it’s a different story. When someone with this disorder experiences high emotion such as anger, frustration, disappointment, surprise, and even joy, they have trouble controlling their reaction. It is difficult for them to put that emotion into perspective and to calm down once the emotional situation has concluded. It may come off as misconduct to someone who doesn’t understand ADD and ADHD, but it is executive function that is not sufficiently well developed or practiced.
Individuals who live with ADD/ADHD often have trouble controlling their impulses. This manifests as hyperactivity, impatience, difficulty waiting turns, blurting thing out, or acting without considering outcomes. Monitoring and regulating actions becomes a real challenge, especially when it comes to adjusting in response to changing circumstances. It can also be hard for individuals with this disorder to recognize the effect their behavior is having on others in their family, school, or work settings, because deficits in executive function also make it difficult to take someone else’s perspective.
These are just a few examples of executive functions that are impacted by ADD and ADHD. If you have a child struggling with ADD and ADHD and you’re wondering what you can do to address executive function issues, check out our Parent Resources page for helpful information and ways you can help your child strengthen this skillset.