What is Executive Dysfunction?

Up to 90% of people with ADHD struggle with executive dysfunction. While ADHD is one of the most common causes of executive dysfunction, many people with other conditions and learning differences also struggle with it. Is your child one of them?

But what is executive dysfunction? How can you recognize it, and what can you do to help? We're here to talk about it.

Read on to learn all about executive dysfunction.

What Is Executive Dysfunction Really?

Executive dysfunction just means that someone is struggling with basic executive functions. Someone experiencing executive dysfunction will have trouble managing their feelings, actions, thoughts, motivation, and more.

Many people think that executive dysfunction is actually laziness, but this isn't true. While it looks like laziness on the surface, the person experiencing it is actually unable to control the problem.

This doesn't mean that they can't take steps to improve and become more functional, but it's not as easy as "just doing it," as some people seem to think.

What Are Executive Functions?

Executive functions are effortless (or almost effortless) for most people. There are six basic executive functions, but keep in mind that executive dysfunction can present in different ways outside of those basic functions.

Cognitive flexibility is one executive function. It means that someone is able to change their train of thought if necessary, even if they experience a sudden change in their situation. People who struggle with this may have a hard time accepting change in general or making plans after their initial plans are ruined.

Working memory is another executive function. It's the memory associated with what someone is doing in the present moment. People can have poor working memory and good long-term memory.

Inhibition control is just what it sounds like. It means someone has a hard time controlling their inhibitions (which can include drug use, abandoning tasks, and more).

Reasoning is an executive function as well. If someone struggles with reasoning, they're not able to critically think. This goes along with problem-solving, another executive function.

Finally, people who struggle with executive dysfunction may struggle with planning.

Who Can Experience Executive Dysfunction

Anyone can experience executive dysfunction, and it can be temporary. It's more common, however, in certain groups of people.

When we discuss executive dysfunction, it's usually in the context of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or ADHD). It's also common for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), depression, people who have experienced traumatic brain injuries, and people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (among others).

People with certain degenerative diseases can also experience persistent executive dysfunction.

ehs-executive disfunction stretch

What Are Examples or Signs of Executive Dysfunction?

What does executive dysfunction look like? It varies from person to person. Here are a few examples:

  • Struggling to complete basic tasks
  • Daydreaming
  • Struggling to focus attention
  • An inability to plan for the future
  • Poor impulse control around sweets, games, and more
  • Struggling to self-motivate

For a child, these things may resemble laziness. In reality, they're likely signs that the child is struggling with executive dysfunction. Children who struggle with executive dysfunction often have a hard time at school as a result.

What Can You Do About Executive Dysfunction?

There's no real "cure" for executive dysfunction. If your child experiences executive dysfunction, you can take them for a medical or mental health evaluation. The doctor may prescribe medication (such as stimulants for ADHD) or therapy that can help the child learn coping mechanisms.

There are a few things that you can do on your own, however.

At Home

Managing executive dysfunction at home takes work, but it's worthwhile.

Make sure your child is sticking to a schedule even if they don't have anything to do during the day. It's helpful to schedule blocks of time even on the weekends and during school breaks. This will keep the child on task.

Eventually, you can break your child free from their strict schedule, but you want them to form good habits.

Use visual reminders to help your child remember tasks, and break each task into smaller tasks. For example, instead of saying "clean your room," you'll write a checklist that includes things like:

  • Make your bed
  • Put away toys
  • Put away clothes
  • Sweep or vacuum the floor

It's far easier for someone who experiences executive dysfunction to follow tasks like that.

In School

You don't have complete control over what your child does at school, but you can take steps to help them.

First, try to help them stay organized. Teach them how to use a planner and consider color-coding their supplies (like pens and binders).

Make sure their teachers understand what they're dealing with. Stay in communication with the teachers so you can keep track of their progress. If your child is struggling, putting them in a school that's made for children with conditions like theirs (like Eagle Hill) can help them stay on track.

At home, make sure you keep an eye on your child when they're studying or doing homework.

Does Your Child Have Executive Dysfunction?

Executive dysfunction is common amongst children with certain conditions and learning differences. If your child experiences executive dysfunction, be patient with them. They'll need extra help, but with that help, they can still thrive.

At Eagle Hill, we understand that children all have unique needs. We want to make sure each child has a good learning experience. With our trained and experienced staff, we're ready to help.

If you're ready to send your child to a school that's suited to them, request more information about our program today.

Topics: Learning Differences, Executive Dysfunction