If you have ADHD, you have executive function disorder


adhd executive function

ADHD, executive function disorder, whatever you want to call it – if you have ADHD, you also have executive function disorder.

“It’s not that people with ADHD and Executive Function Disorder don’t know what to do, it’s that somehow it does not get done.” – Russell Barkley, PhD

I’ve always liked Dr. Barkley’s ability to get to the crux of the issue.

What are Executive Functions and why I should care?

I’m not gonna lie, my initial research left my very confused.

Reading the descriptions of Executive Function I thought, “that sounds an awful lot like ADHD.”

My favorite description comes from Dr. Thomas Brown, here is a link to one article.

Dr. Brown breaks EFs down into 6 categories: activation, focus, effort, emotion, memory, and action.

I have written a short articles on several of these categories that you can read separately.

In your day-to-day life, executive function impacts a number of thought and behavioral processes.

Because ADHD is so individual, it’s impossible for me to list all the impacts here, but I can give you a sampling of how I think*** executive dysfunction impacts my ability to complete tasks.

  1. Prioritizing tasks
  2. Analyzing a task
  3. Motivating myself to start
  4. Planning how to address the task
  5. Organizing the steps needed to carry out the task
  6. Developing a timeline for completing the task
  7. Adjusting or shifting steps in order to complete the task
  8. Completing the task in a timely way
  9. Feeling a sense of satisfaction when I DO finish something
  10. Overthinking my performance

Another example of ADHD/EFD in action

There was once a 7th grade girl named ADHD Addie. She was a nice girl – friendly and agreeable. Nobody knew that she was ADHD and had been driving herself crazy trying to compensate.

Addie was given an assignment. The assignment looked something like this: come up with a science fair project, complete the project to show it at the fair, and then write a short summary of your findings.

Addie diligently writes the assignment in her planner, goes home and does not even think about it again until the next time the assignment is mentioned in class.

Addie procrastinates about researching the prior year’s projects, and therefore does not formulate a plan. In fact, she does not even think through the steps involved to complete a science project, effectively skipping the organizational step.

Addie pulls out her planner to look at the due date for her science fair project when it is mentioned in class. Even then, the momentary panic she feels is not enough to mark her consciousness.

Approximately one week before the project is due her teacher asks some of the students to talk about their projects. Panic sets in immediately and Addie starts to fidget in her seat.

The weekend before the project is due, Addie tells her mother in a tearful meltdown that she has to complete the science project immediately. Her mother asks her what she had planned to do for the project.  What plan? There was never a plan.

The project is turned in a day late. Points are deducted, a low grade is received and the cycle of shame and self-loathing continues.

<insert eye roll>

Dr. thomas brown to the rescue

Fortunately, there was an ADDitude sponsored free teleconference with Thomas Brown, PhD that I had the opportunity to attend.

Dr. Brown did a fantastic job of explaining the connection between ADHD and EFD.

In short, if you have ADHD you most likely also have EFD.

This comes as no surprise seeing as the story above is loosely based on one of my own childhood memories.

According to Dr. Brown, ADHD is a developmental impairment of the brain’s management system. Naturally, as we age the demands for executive functions increase incrementally as we progress through adolescence and into adulthood.

Here is a screen shot that I think really encapsulates EFD:

Dr. Thomas Brown Screen Shot EFD


I also listened to Dr. Russell Barkley’s teleconference with ADDitude that delved into How ADHD Affects Executive Functioning in Adults and Children.

Dr. Barkley confirmed Dr. Brown’s research stating, “ having ADHD nearly guarantees that you will have an EF disorder.”

Dr. Barkley further improved my understanding of executive functions as they apply to self-regulation.

Self Regulation

Self-regulation includes skills such as self-awareness, inhibition, nonverbal working memory and self-motivation. I actually wrote about my terrible working memory Here.

As women we wear so many hats, we are providers, mothers, cooks, and housekeepers.

You and I both know it is easy to get bogged down in the mundane day-to-day stuff of our lives.

I know very few women with ADHD who do not feel completely overwhelmed.

Short summary: If you have ADHD you probably have EFD

For that reason we need to be aware of how these functions factor into our ADHD symptoms. When it comes to ADHD or EFD knowledge and awareness really is power.

If we don’t educate ourselves, who will?

Join us in the Enclave – together we are building calmer, more satisfying lives with ADHD!

6 comments on “If you have ADHD, you have executive function disorder

  1. People at work think that I am totally disinterested in doing the tedious stuff and actually even lazy. Wish I could show them this and know that I would not be judged.

  2. Hi Nicole – Do you work in an environment where you could be open about your ADHD symptoms? Are you certain that they think you are lazy? If so, you can either develop some kind of system/s for yourself to help you get the tedious stuff done, OR you can ask for support from your boss/coworkers.
    I noticed that you joined our group – we can discuss over there if you want to be more private! 🙂

  3. Until this moment I did not even know that EFD existed. It explains so much to me. I was not diagnosed with ADHD until I was 43 and the college I was attending suggested I get tested when I was struggling. When I look back through my life I see it. I wish I had more support though. It seems as though I run into people that think I want to use it as an excuse, which I do not. I’ve book marked your site and can’t wait to explore more of your postings.

  4. Hi Beth!
    Thank you for commenting. Your timing couldn’t be better – I am finishing up a series of posts on individual executive functions. Each one is short and easy to understand.
    Try not to worry too much about the doubters, there are so many of us we do a good job of supporting each other. Check out our Facebook groups!

  5. Hi Liz,
    I’m also Liz, I am a Med Provider (APRN) for Child Adolescent Psychiatry, but I love to find good resources for my patients…I was trying to check out that free download about “Workday checklist” on the free downloads tab at the top of the page. There is not link…Do you have any great spreadsheets or charts that I can give to my highschool students/patients to help them get down the Executive Function Solution!!!??? Any help would be appreciated.

    • Hi Liz-
      I actually haven’t developed anything specific to high school students. Let me look through my dropbox for the link to the Workday Checklist. I’m sure I have it somewhere.
      Thank you for reading and commenting!

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