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Executive Function and ADHD: How They Are Linked

Executive function and ADHD
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


The process of thinking, acting, and feeling is controlled by executive functioning. It determines a person’s ability to manage their time, plan activities, and regulate their behavior and emotions.

Executive functioning skills are required for setting priorities, recalling information, paying attention, concentrating, and more. They also aid in understanding how current behaviors will affect the future positively or negatively, which results in self-censoring—avoiding doing or saying the wrong thing when necessary.

Those diagnosed with ADHD can notice their executive functioning skills becoming worse. In this post, we’ll examine the connection between the issues with executive functioning and ADHD, the symptoms of executive function disorder, and available treatments.

Symptoms of Executive Dysfunction

Executive dysfunction is not an official diagnosis. It is a name for specific symptoms usually linked with ADHD [1*] . Executive dysfunction can occur in both those without ADHD and those who have it [2*] . However, there are similarities between executive dysfunction and ADHD signs. This can be explained by the fact that executive functioning problems cause many ADHD symptoms. Still, in contrast to ADHD, executive dysfunction does not necessarily cause hyperactivity or agitation.

In many facets of life, executive dysfunction in ADHD patients [3*] is relevant, some requiring self-control. Here are some examples of problems with executive functioning caused by ADHD.

1. Memory problems

It has been demonstrated [4*] that executive dysfunction includes working memory issues. Working memory refers to remembering and storing newly acquired knowledge for subsequent use. It is in charge of short-term memory and execution, so the issues associated with it can lead to huge difficulties in life. An ADHD person may forget tiny details or important events, lose things, and have difficulty memorizing, processing, and using information.

2. Challenges with time management, planning, and organization

To complete everything that must be done, we must plan projects, gather the necessary resources, and work on the tasks consistently to finish them within an acceptable time. Executive dysfunction could obstruct the entire procedure and come with difficulty in finishing up long-term projects.

People who need help with this aspect of executive functioning have trouble organizing their materials, separating important information from irrelevant data, anticipating and making plans for future events, calculating how long tasks will take to complete, and even just starting a task.

3. Difficulties with concentration and paying attention

When a person has executive dysfunction, it may be difficult for them to maintain constant focus on a task. Even when trying to focus on one specific thing, they may switch between the activities and end up doing another task. Moreover, they might not even realize how that could happen.

Deficits in executive functioning make people easily distracted and prone to missing crucial information. In addition to external factors, they are preoccupied with their thinking. Moreover, when attention needs to be diverted, they struggle to do so, and they are prone to becoming fixated on one idea and thinking only about it.

4. Lack of inhibitory control

Intentionally limiting attention and instinctive reactions to anything is known as inhibitive control or IC. Examples of this practice include ignoring distractors, stopping oneself from speaking out loud, or restraining a compulsive response. Executive function issues might contribute to difficulty in regulating emotions and behavior. That is why people that struggle with executive dysfunction may present as easily distracted, impulsive, and stimulus-driven.

With the SmartCare symptom checker, you can find out if you have any symptoms and get help for ADHD from a professional.

What is the Best Way to Treat Executive Dysfunction?

Improving the executive function skills that are thought to be lacking is the main objective. Therefore, the treatment plan is always personalized and focuses on managing and solving particular issues that may vary in different patients.

The procedure of developing the treatment plan is based on both the root of the dysfunction and the areas that need the most improvement. Adults with executive dysfunction, including issues with inhibition, emotion regulation, time management, and planning, respond particularly well to cognitive-behavioral therapy when combined with medication [5*] to treat any concomitant diseases like ADHD. However, in addition to specific medical interventions, you may be recommended to implement lifestyle modifications and use certain tips, such as the next:

  • Work in a step-by-step manner or divide projects into smaller ones.
  • Utilize time management tools and apps.
  • Create visual schedules, mark the necessary project milestones, and review those charts several times daily.
  • When feasible, ask for written instructions in addition to spoken ones.
  • Plan and organize activity shifts and times of changeover.

Consult a mental health expert online to know if you have ADHD and get a personalized treatment plan.

Executive functioning skills


Difficulties with executive function and ADHD are often closely related. Executive function issues can arise for various reasons, not simply ADHD, but they can be managed.

To overcome your mental challenges, consider seeing a professional. MEDvidi experts can assist you in managing your symptoms so that you can live a healthier and happier life.


5 sources
  1. Role of executive function in ADHD. (2003)
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  2. Empirical examination of executive functioning, ADHD associated behaviors, and functional impairments in adults with persistent ADHD, remittent ADHD, and without ADHD. (2020)
    Source link
  3. Executive dysfunction in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: cognitive and neuroimaging findings. (2004)
    Source link
  4. Executive Dysfunction. (2015)
    Source link
  5. Executive function and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: stimulant medication and better executive function performance in children. (1999)
    Source link
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


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Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument.

This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.