Adult ADHD and Executive Dysfunction

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Adult ADHD and Executive Dysfunction

By: Sawyer Cecena

ADHD and executive dysfunction often go together – especially for those with the inattentive type of ADHD. According to Dr. Russell Barkley, founder of The ADHD Report, adults living with ADHD struggle to shift between executive functions 40% more frequently than those without. This affects crucial self-management skills such as awareness, memory, and planning, making it difficult to start or complete tasks, remain organized, and effectively manage time. If you suffer from ADHD, these behaviors may sound familiar already.

What is Executive Dysfunction?
Executive dysfunction is an impairment to one’s executive functioning skills due to a lapse in the brain’s region of self-control. Although the cause is unknown, we do know that it directly devalues goal-focused behaviors. I like to imagine executive dysfunction as a barrier between my thoughts and capabilities. I may have an idea of what I want or need to be doing. However, it seems impossible to reach the other side and begin the task. At times, it feels like I am constantly waiting for the “right time” to do something when that time does not exist. 

Executive Dysfunction vs. Laziness
Oftentimes, executive dysfunction can be misunderstood as laziness. However, this is not the case. When I am feeling unmotivated, I will put off obligations that seem difficult or time consuming in favor of pleasure. This typically looks like consciously leaving dishes in the sink for another night so I can play video games. But executive dysfunction is most frustrating when it stops me from doing things I want to do without reason. This can mean spending hours thinking about how I’d love to be painting, and still putting it off despite having a genuine desire to do so.

How Can Adults with ADHD Cope with Executive Dysfunction? 
If you struggle with executive dysfunction, there are several strategies that can be used to improve goal-focused behaviors. Adults may benefit from using visual reminders like notes or apps to track time and tasks to be completed. For bigger tasks, try breaking them down into more manageable chunks with designated breaks in between. For example, you may want to spend fifteen minutes tackling dishes, then take a ten-minute Netflix break before spending another fifteen sweeping. Another strategy that has helped me was creating a rewards system that encouraged me to stay on track. It’s a lot easier to schedule that mundane appointment knowing I’ll get to stop for Starbucks afterwards!

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