What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not a deficit in attention. It is an inability to control one’s mental attention and focus and problems with self-regulation. It is not a learning disability, however, it can lead to learning impairments. ADHD is an executive dysfunction disorder.
What is Executive Function?
Executive function is an umbrella term for several skills that have to do with directing our thinking, feelings, and actions and achieving goals. Some of these skills are impulse control (withholding a response or action), use of our working memory (keeping the information in mind while doing something else), emotional control (the ability to modulate intense emotions), self-monitoring (of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, and to self-correct as needed), self-regulation, task management (the ability to initiate, persist with, and complete a task), planning, prioritizing, and organizing ideas and tasks, time management (being realistic about how long things take to complete and a general sense of time – time perception), and motivation (a process that elicits, controls, and sustains certain behaviors).
- A lack of awareness of time, often late or missing appointments and deadlines, and overestimating how many things one can do in a timeframe while underestimating how long it will take them to do something (aka time blindness)
- Having chaotic or disordered activities, performances, and environments
- Distractibility, easily interrupted, having multiple internal mental images occurring all at once, and oversensitive to stimuli
- Forgetting where you put things, what you were doing, and even following up or staying in touch with people – out of sight, out of mind (aka object constancy; often incorrectly called object permanence, which is a part of childhood cognitive development)
- Procrastinating on activities that are not top priorities or goals as a way to keep busy and distract from things that need to get done (aka procrastivity)
- Difficulties focusing and prioritizing too much (sensory) information at once – sensory overload
- Trouble knowing the proper sequence to perform an action, skill, or execute a plan (aka procedural sequence learning deficits)
- Impulsivity and hyperactivity, which can show up differently in adults than in children
These symptoms and more can lead to low self-esteem, restlessness, exhaustion, frustration, anger, and anxiety, as well as substance use, increased risk-taking, and injury.
- Making changes to one’s environment
- Finding strategies that work for the individual for organization, prioritization, planning, and execution
- Setting up a calendar or reminder system
- Creating structure and accountability
- Walking or movement mindfulness/meditation
- Behavioral therapies and skills training
- Practice regulating one’s emotions
- Medication management
- Addressing any anxiety, low self-esteem, or substance use