Executive Function & ADHD

Over the last 20 years, developments in neurobehavioral theory and near imaging have supported a deeper understanding of the processes behind the core inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms of ADHD. The majority of these ideas can be grouped under the title of Executive Function.

How Executive Function is implicated in ADHD

Executive Function theories describe what are believed to be the neurological and cognitive processes that support self regulation aimed at creating success in whatever situation we find ourselves. In relation to ADHD, the executive functions appear to perform inconsistently resulting in unreliable performance whether this is in terms of attention, planning, prioritisation, inhibition or emotional self-regulation.

An important aspect of this insight regarding ADHD and Executive Function is that these functions are available and can perform well in the right conditions. This suggests that the optimal treatments will increase incidence of achieving these optimal conditions through options for internal neuro-chemical stimulation (i.e. medications and motivation/reward based techniques), behavioural change and environmental changes.

While there is still much work being carried out in research and theory development regarding Executive Function and particularly EF in relation to ADHD, a rough guide to the characteristics of EF include:

  1. WORKING MEMORY (verbal and spatial)
  2. EMOTIONAL REGULATION (including motivation)
  3. ATTENTION MANAGEMENT (the ability to direct attention)
  4. INHIBITION (ability to inhibit thoughts or behaviour to redirect attention or activity)
  5. PLANNING, ORGANISATION & SYNTHESIS (represent more tertiary functional application of the first four characteristics.)

logo smallPrimary Refs: Barkley,Russell (multiple sources) & Brown, Thomas (multiple sources).

See our resources section for some links to great video clips and literature including two of the lead researchers in the area, Prof Russell Barkley & Professor Thomas Brown.