But these symptoms aren't exclusive to ADHD. In fact, many of them overlap with executive dysfunction, which is common among people with ADHD. Learn more about what executive dysfunction is, why it's so closely linked with ADHD, and how to deal with it effectively.
What Is Executive Dysfunction?
Executive dysfunction is a term used to describe a range of symptoms related to how someone regulates their actions, thoughts, and emotions. It's not a condition that can be diagnosed on its own. Instead, it's a way of describing the symptoms that most commonly occur due to a mental health condition.
Executive functions are cognitive processes which help you establish structure, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control your impulses. These are the types of self-regulation skills that most people begin developing in childhood and continue to hone over the course of their lifetime. There are many types of executive function, including:
- Cognitive flexibility: This skill allows someone to adapt to different situations and move their thoughts smoothly from one topic to another.
- Working memory: This type of memory is more immediate than long-term memory. It involves what you're currently doing.
- Inhibition control: This type of control involves regulating thoughts, emotions, and actions so that you don't act impulsively or become overwhelmed easily.
- Reasoning: The ability to reason involves thinking critically and breaking down complicated topics to make them easier to understand.
- Problem solving: Problem solving requires applying prior knowledge and experience to come up with solutions.
- Planning: This executive functioning skill is focused on mapping out the steps you need to take to complete a task or achieve a goal.
How ADHD and Executive Dysfunction are Related
People with ADHD have a high likelihood of experiencing executive dysfunction. In fact, up to 90% of children with ADHD struggle with executive dysfunction.
When someone experiences executive dysfunction, they struggle with these key areas of executive function. Certain areas of executive function may be more challenging than others depending on an individual's circumstances. For example, one person with ADHD might have the most problems with moving between different tasks, while another really struggles with impulsive behaviors.
Some examples of how different types of executive dysfunction can manifest in people with ADHD include:
- Cognitive flexibility: Struggling to focus on one thing, getting distracted easily, trouble adjusting when unexpected obstacles come up.
- Working memory: Not remembering instructions which were just given, frequently misplacing things, forgetting about important events or deadlines.
- Inhibition control: Blurting things out in a rude manner, taking physical risks, or having emotional outbursts.
- Reasoning: Problems with processing information, struggling to break down a complex idea into easy-to-understand pieces.
- Problem solving: Trouble figuring out solutions, getting overwhelmed by a problem and not seeing possible ways to deal with it.
- Planning: Being disorganized, struggling to make a plan and stick to it, difficulty managing time effectively.
It's important to remember that although executive dysfunction symptoms are very common among those with ADHD, they are separate, distinct issues. ADHD is an official diagnosis, and executive dysfunction (sometimes known as executive function disorder) is a description of symptoms which can occur with a number of different conditions, including depression, learning disorders, and autism spectrum disorder. People with other mental health conditions, addictions, behavioral disorders, mood disorders, or brain development issues may also struggle with executive dysfunction.
Tips for Dealing with Executive Dysfunction
The good news is that, while dealing with executive dysfunction can be very challenging, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce its impact on your day-to-day life. Try the following strategies to manage executive dysfunction effectively.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Also known as CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy can be very helpful for dealing with executive dysfunction. It guides an individual in developing new ways of thinking to overcome certain challenges. In CBT, a patient learns to recognize when the way they're thinking is creating problems and get practical solutions they can apply to overcome those problems.
Making changes to someone's surroundings or routine can help lessen the impact of executive dysfunction. For example, someone who has trouble with time management can implement alarms, counters, timers and other devices to help track time intervals. If an individual has trouble with their working memory, they might use visual reminders, calendars, or note-taking to help them remember important details.
Typically, the most effective way to deal with executive dysfunction is to treat the underlying disorder. If you have ADHD that is causing executive dysfunction, it's important to find a treatment plan that works for you. Medication is often the most effective way to treat ADHD, so talk to your healthcare provider or get in touch with us at Done to find out what your options are.