ADHD and Executive Dysfunction: Double Trouble
People who cope with ADHD frequently notice that their ability to command their own attention is accompanied by a struggle to employ high-level cognitive functions such as problem-solving, impulse control, or planning. Not only are they often distracted, easily bored, or super-focused, they may lose track of time and dates, have trouble organizing, cannot regulate their emotions, and have difficulty initiating projects or activities. To use an engineering metaphor: Although they have plenty of horsepower, they need a little more torque.
Neurons at Work
“Increasingly, researchers are recognizing that ADHD symptoms overlap with impairments in what neuropsychologists call executive dysfunction,” writes ADHD expert Thomas Brown, PhD, in a recent issue of ADDitude magazine. “The term refers not to the activities of corporate executives, but to the brain’s cognitive management functions. The term is used to refer to brain circuits that prioritize, integrate, and regulate other cognitive functions.”
According to Brown, “there are networks of neurons that prioritize and integrate all of our cognitive functions. If these networks are impaired, as they are in ADHD, then that individual is likely to be impaired in the management of a wide range of cognitive functions” regardless of how much they might try to do otherwise.
Chemistry vs. Self-Mastery
Recent medication studies show that the neurotransmitter chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine play central roles in regulating attention and executive functions. There is no single “conductor” in the brain controlling various abilities; rather, these complicated networks of neurons coordinate those important functions. “Given the often-dramatic alleviation of symptoms experienced by people with ADHD when they take stimulant medications, it is very difficult to sustain the notion that ADHD impairments amount to a lack of willpower.”
There are strategies that can make a difference for people with executive dysfunction. At Evoke Learning, we coach students with ADHD to help them understand the opportunities and challenges of their learning difference. The coaching will help to establish habits that lead to accomplishing goals, increase the student’s level of awareness around issues important to them, create a plan of action, teach executive function skills, and manage obstacles that arise while pursuing goals. Specialized coaching can help students overcome the obstacles of executive dysfunction, processing deficits, and social anxiety in order to achieve and thrive in today’s accelerated academic environment. Contact us to learn more.
The Adult ADHD Mind: Executive Function Connections
By Thomas E. Brown, PhD
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By Janice Rodden