ADHD – Executive Functions

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD is a medical neurobiological disorder. It is an illness or deficit of the nervous system.

Medical research has found that some dopamine genes are associated with ADHD.

ADHD is most often due to genetic or biological factors. Family, twin and adoption studies have shown that heredity is the most common cause of ADHD.

If a child has ADHD there is five times more likelihood that another family member will also have the disorder.

ADHD is a chronic condition that can present at all levels of severity and rarely occurs by itself. Difficulty with regulating emotions is often an issue as well.

Symptoms of ADHD may vary day to day and hour by hour. While many may exhibit these symptoms, it is the degree of presentation, the inability to regulate them and the level of impairment that results in a diagnosis.

The core symptoms of ADHD:

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity

Inattention – Inability to regulate attention

  • Easily distracted by external stimuli while trying to stay on task
  • Daydreaming
  • Struggles to give full attention when being spoken to
  • Unable to remember verbal instructions
  • Misunderstands or misinterprets given instructions
  • Unable to pay attention to details
  • Needs reminding to complete tasks
  • Misplacing or losing items
  • Difficulty with organizational skills
  • Struggles with procrastination and starting tasks

Hyperactivity – Inability to regulate activity

  • Unable to sit still or settle
  • Excessive talking
  • Talking at inappropriate times
  • Appearing to have an abundance of energy
  • Tends to stand or move around rather than sitting
  • Unable to wind-down and settle into quieter activities
  • Always on the go

Impulsivity – Inability to regulate behavior

  • Interrupting conversions
  • Speaking out of turn
  • Commencing a task before gathering all the information
  • Disturbing others
  • Failure to respect the personal space of others
  • Impatience with waiting for their turn
  • Struggles to wait in line
  • Impulsive decision making

It is commonly agreed that there are three types or sub-types associated with ADHD.

  • ADHD – Combined. This sub-type exhibits symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity and is the most common form of ADHD
  • ADHD – Primarily Inattentive. This sub-type primarily exhibits symptoms related to attention and is also referred to as ADD
  • ADHD – Primarily Hyperactive/Impulsive. This is the least common sub-type and presents itself as hyperactive and impulsive behavior

ADHD and Executive Functioning

Research has shown that children and adults with ADHD often show weakness in the areas of Executive Functioning (EF). Executive functioning is the mental process that allows us to plan ahead, evaluate the past, start and finish a task and manage our time.

Executive Functioning skills:

  • Identify problems
  • Find solutions
  • Organize ourselves
  • Regulate our behavior and emotions
  • Control our attention levels
  • Resist distractions

Symptoms of ADHD may change as one ages and matures. Hyperactivity and impulsiveness tend to decrease or manifest in other ways.

Recent research indicates that later in life, problems with Executive Functioning become more of an issue than attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. As executive functioning skills are required more so during adulthood, this proves problematic for adults diagnosed with ADHD.

Working memory is an important part of executive functioning and is a skill that allows us to retain information in the brain while working with it at the same time.

Working memory directly impacts upon reading comprehension, written expression, math skills and the ability to pay attention and resist distraction.

Research conducted by the founder of the Amen Clinics, Dr. Daniel Amen has broken ADHD down further into seven sub-types, each with it’s own unique symptoms, brain functions and neurotransmitter activity. This research will be examined in a future post.


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