Executive functioning plays a vital role in our daily lives, allowing one to remember appointments, meet deadlines, and do chores. These skills may seem intuitive and usually do not require much effort or motivation when one’s executive functions work smoothly. However, in many psychological disorders, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), there may be a delay or deficit with one’s executive functions, resulting in what is known as executive dysfunction. Executive dysfunction is when one experiences reduced efficacy of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional processes often involved in planning, problem-solving, regulating emotions, and controlling thoughts (Rodden, 2021). Involved with so many vital processes necessary for basic functioning, it is important to raise awareness about how it presents itself within individuals, so they can receive support and help.
Executive dysfunction exists on a spectrum, and there are various types of executive dysfunction that can be prevalent in individuals with ADHD. In fact, there is a significant overlap in symptoms of ADHD and executive dysfunction. Executive dysfunction and ADHD can result in issues with working memory making it difficult to remember small details or even events. Attention is affected as well. It can be hard to stay focused on one task, or one may accidentally shift focus onto another task and completely forget about their initial objective. Problem-solving skills are also diminished since “executive dysfunction affects flexible thinking” (Resnick, 2022). It may be difficult to see different angles to the problem or balance more than one issue at a time. The ability to plan, organize, and execute tasks is also impaired. It can be hard to prioritize which assignments need to be completed first or remember that you made plans with a friend. Furthermore, when there are no outside factors to motivate you, it becomes even more difficult to push yourself to complete the task. Lastly, executive dysfunction can affect one’s ability to regulate emotions and thus, control their behavior (Resnick, 2022). This leads to more impulsivity and lack of ability to consider the consequences of an action. These are all symptoms of executive dysfunction that can fall under ADHD and severely impact one’s relationships and performance in work or school.
Executive dysfunction can affect all areas of your life. To others, it may seem like you are lazy, disorganized, or unproductive. Friends may think you do not care about them when you forget plans. Consistently being unable to meet deadlines may lead to losing your job or failing a class. However, executive dysfunction is very manageable when you learn the right mechanisms to deal with it and seek help. Some methods that may be helpful to deal with executive dysfunction are breaking tasks down into smaller chunks to complete them, creating a visual schedule to organize your days, setting frequent reminders for what needs to be done and implementing transitions between tasks so that focus is not lost (Pugle, 2021). Reaching out to your school or workplace for accommodations is also advised. They can help provide extra time for you to complete tasks, set up an understanding with colleagues about how you manage work differently, and offer extra support for your endeavors. If your executive dysfunction is too debilitating, cognitive behavioral therapy or occupational therapy may be options to try since they can help change your thought and behavioral patterns, which may have a long-term effect in coping with both ADHD and associated symptoms of executive dysfunction (Pugle, 2021). Medications for ADHD may also be helpful if your executive dysfunction is linked to your ADHD. Although executive dysfunction can be overwhelming, there are plenty of resources available, so do not hesitate to seek help.
Executive dysfunction can present itself in many ways in individuals with ADHD and color everyone’s journey with ADHD differently. It is important to remember that we do not know the difficulties others may be facing and to treat people with patience, compassion, and understanding. Do not be discouraged by your symptoms, but instead reach out to help yourself heal.
Pugle, M. (2021, December 6). The Association Between Executive Dysfunction and ADHD. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/executive-function-and-adhd-5210236#citation-5
Resnick, A. (2022, January 3). What is executive dysfunction in ADHD? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-executive-dysfunction-in-adhd-5213034
Rodden, J. (2021, July 15). What is executive dysfunction? ADDitude. https://www.additudemag.com/what-is-executive-function-disorder/