The ADHD Brain: How to Increase Independence & Accountability

Written by: Lisa Aguilar, MS SSP

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Do you have a sea of sticky notes on your desk with no sense of order?  

Do you start multiple tasks but never seem to get anything accomplished?  

Do you struggle with remembering what to do and when to do it? 

Do you struggle to meet goals or deadlines? 

Do you know you have an item but have difficulty locating it or remembering where you put it? Having these struggles can have an adverse impact on one’s goals, relationships, work performance, and academic achievement. 

Perhaps you have heard the term executive functioning but what exactly are the executive functions and how do we utilize them in everyday life?  What is the connection (or disconnect) between executive functioning and individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Let’s start with breaking down the executive functions  and ADHD.

The Executive Functions

Executive functioning is an umbrella term that includes a specific set of higher level cognitive processes required to successfully execute goals.

Simply put, our executive functions help us get shit done. They include controlling and regulating  impulses, emotions, behavior, flexible thinking, planning, initiating tasks, and organization. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is broken down into three categories: primary inattentive type, primary hyperactive type, and combined type (both inattentive and hyperactive features). Individuals with ADHD can struggle with organization and prioritization, focusing on a task, multitasking, planning, following through, and completing tasks. They may also struggle with restlessness and low frustration tolerance.

Many, if not all, of these struggles directly fall under the executive functioning umbrella.  Breakdowns in executive functioning skills are not only limited to an ADHD diagnosis.  Individuals who suffer from a stroke, dementia, Autism, Anxiety, and many other diagnoses also can struggle with executive functioning skills.  

Executive Dysfunction in the ADHD Brain

Executing our executive functions can fluctuate depending on various factors such as stress, fatigue, and motivation. Executive functioning is housed in the frontal lobe of the brain.  Consequently, the frontal lobe is smaller and slower to mature in individuals with ADHD.

While there are many factors that can negatively impact executive functioning development, individuals with ADHD can be swimming upstream.  You do not need a diagnosis to have executive functioning breakdowns.  Every individual can struggle with various facets of executive functioning at any given time.  One may have the skill but struggle to apply them in a particular setting or under certain conditions.

Luckily there are many resources and strategies to counteract weaknesses in executive functioning skills. 

Resources to Counteract Executive Functioning Breakdowns

1. Executive Functioning Strategies to Increase Independence & Accountability

  • Brain Dump – Before I start my day I spend a few minutes completing a Brain Dump exercise.  Brain Dumps can be utilized in different ways but all are helpful in creating a more manageable to-do list and assisting with prioritizing. Learn various brain dump exercises here.
  • Divorce “Multitasking” – Multitasking does not work…especially for those struggling with executive functioning skills.  Multitasking results in working on various tasks and struggling with actually crossing any one thing off of your to-do list making you feel like you are getting nowhere. Focus on one task at hand!
  • Assess your level of motivation and fatigue.  Engage in easier, quicker, more appealing tasks when your motivation and energy are low. Save lengthier, less appealing tasks when motivation and energy are higher.

2. Executive Functioning Apps: Making Technology Work for You

3. Book Recommendations 

Written by: Lisa Aguilar, MS SSP

Lisa Aguilar, MS SSP is a school psychologist proudly serving the public school system and surrounding communities for the past 12 years.  Lisa’s strengths include evaluating systems and practices and assisting other professionals in developing effective procedures.  Lisa enjoys coaching individuals to strengthen executive functioning skills, coping strategies for overcoming performance and testing anxiety, and consulting with families on Section 504 and Special Education processes.  Lisa is driven by education transformation and developing strategies to support systemic change and student achievement. Lisa has a passion for educating individuals in mental health risk factors and guiding support systems through prevention and intervention.  Lisa’s experience in schools allows her to support collaboration between education in the home and school environments to ensure student success.

Website: LisaAguilar.com

Contact Information: LisaAguilarSSP@Gmail.com

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