Why Having ADHD Means You Also Have Executive Function Disorder

what is executive functioning and why should I care about it?

“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 don’t know about you,  but this sentence is absolutely, 100% describing me.

What are Executive Functions and why I should care about them?

Like most people, I was completely confused when I started researching Executive Functions.

Reading the descriptions I thought, “that sounds an awful lot like ADHD.” I am still reading, but it took me a while to figure out how the two diagnoses are related.

Still a little fuzzy on what functions EFD includes?

There are some really good articles on ADDitude.com, but for our purposes I will focus on one written by Larry Silver, MD. Link

This article because breaks down and explains what types of thinking and mental processing constitute executive functions.

Reading Dr. Silver’s list is similar to reading the comments on one of my old report cards. Apparently, I have failed at pretty much all of the executive functions, and usually more than one at a time.

Executive Functions involve 6 basic activities or thought processes. These processes are:

  1. Analyzing a task
  2. Planning how to address the task
  3. Organizing the steps needed to carry out the task
  4. Developing a timeline for completing the task
  5. Adjusting or shifting steps in order to complete the task
  6. Completing the task in a timely way

If you have ADHD you are likely to have EFD, and it is important that you understand what this means to your overall functioning and treatment plan.

why having adhd means you also have executive function disorder

story time

Let me tell you a story in order to demonstrate how EFD looks when combined with ADHD. (I totally stole this story idea from Dr. Silver’s article. Just so you know)

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.   She forgets to mention the project to her mother.

Addie will not start her project until the weekend before it is due, so there are no adjustments to her plan. What plan? There was never a plan.

Approximately 4 days 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. When she gets home she tells her mother that she has to complete a project for the science fair. Chaos ensues.

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>

ADDItude to the rescue

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

The teleconference, called The ADHD Executive Function Connection, cemented in my mind the information I had already absorbed about EFD.

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.

I have always thought that self-regulation, or the inability to do so, was the hardest part of… Click To Tweet

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.

Motivation is a sticky issue for many of us. Not just because we have trouble getting started, but also because we are so easily sidetracked. Women wear so many hats, we are providers, and 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. This is probably due to our lack of self-awareness.

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.

Adulting (via Carla Birnberg) is hard when you have ADHD and EFD. If we don’t educate ourselves, who will?

Lets support each other and entertain each other in the only way I know how. Hang out with me and some other wonderful women with ADHD in our Facebook Group.

If you would prefer something more small-group oriented and personal check out my private Coaching Corner

What executive functions are the toughest for you?

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  • Nicole

    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.

  • Liz

    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! 🙂

  • Beth Hildebrandt-Elliott

    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.

  • Liz

    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!