Understanding Executive Functions 

People with ADHD often experience deficits in Executive Functioning. The severity and combination of these deficits vary widely among individuals. Executive Functioning occurs in an area of the brain called the Pre-frontal Cortex (PFC), which is located in the frontal lobes, just behind the forehead. This part of the brain is sometimes referred to as the “CEO of the brain”. It plays a critical role in higher-order cognitive processes.

Executive Functions are the processes in the brain that control our behaviour and enable us to get things done efficiently and effectively. They drive academic skills, life skills and social skills. A weakness in any area will cause problems, and the more areas of difficulty we experience, the more problems we have in day to day life.

Executive function is judged by the strength of these seven skills:

  1. Self-awareness:
  2. Inhibition: or self-restraint.
  3. Non-Verbal Working Memory: The ability to hold things in your mind.
  4. Verbal Working Memory: Self-speech, or internal speech.
  5. Emotional Self-Regulation: The ability to take the previous four executive functions and use them to manipulate your own emotional state. This means learning to use words, images, and your own self-awareness to process and alter how we feel about things.
  6. Self-motivation: How well you can motivate yourself to complete a task when there is no immediate external consequence.
  7. Planning and Problem Solving: How we play with information in our minds to come up with new ways of doing something to plan solutions to problems.

People with executive function challenges might find everyday tasks challenging such as:

  • Keeping track of time
  • Conceptualising how long a task will take
  • Making plans
  • Getting started on a task
  • Staying focused during a task
  • Revising plans in the face of setbacks
  • Following instructions
  • Prioritising what to focus on
  • Organising thoughts and possessions
  • Applying previously learned information to solve problems
  • Remembering the consequences of past indiscretions
  • Staying in control of their emotions when faced with peer rejection or bullying
  • Interpreting non-verbal cues like facial expressions
  • Making and maintaining friendships
  • Adjusting behaviour to meet expected behaviours
  • Communicating messages with body language

“Executive Functions predict academic performance in the earliest elementary grades through university better than does IQ.”