ADHD, charts, homeschooling

What Is My ADHD Child’s Executive Function Age?

“Executive functions (collectively referred to as executive function and cognitive control) are a set of cognitive processes that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals. Executive functions include basic cognitive processes such as attentional control, cognitive inhibition, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Higher order executive functions require the simultaneous use of multiple basic executive functions and include planning and fluid intelligence (i.e., reasoning and problem solving).” (from Wikipedia)

What is my ADHD child's executive age

The brain of the ADHD child is developing at an average 30% behind schedule in the frontal lobe region according to leading ADHD researcher Dr Russell Barkley. The frontal lobe controls regulation. It is the executive function part of the brain. It is the boss, the voice in your brain, the executive assistant, that tells you what to do with what you know and learn. Because this part is behind schedule, children with ADHD brains are not always able to access the information they know to make use of it.

All the files are there in the information section, but the operating system is failing to access the files.

For example, they may know that stoves are hot and yet impulsively touch a hot stove because the part of their brain that says “Wait!” isn’t working on schedule with neurotypical brains. This is because the files stored in the back of their brain that says “Stoves are hot” was not accessed in a timely manner to prohibit touching the stove. It is not because they do not know the stove is hot. It is a failure of the frontal lobe of the brain to access the information they have stored in the memory sections.

Executive function dysregulation generally causes deficiencies in planning, abstract thinking, flexibility and behavioral control. It encompasses many different parts of regulation –from emotional control to physical control over their bodies to organizational abilities– and any one part could be more or less affected by ADHD. It varies by the individual.

Because there are other disorders or injuries that can cause executive delay problems, Executive Function Disorder is a diagnosis in an of itself. Sometimes, someone with ADHD will have both diagnoses. According to Dr. Barkley, (the ADHD researcher who is the source of the 30% behind concept) every ADHD person has executive dysfunction by default to one level or another.

The 30% behind neurotypical people as listed in this graphic is just an average. So your child could be more behind or less behind. He could be more behind in some areas and less behind in others.

For instance, I knew I was impulsive (even though I didn’t know I have ADHD) and didn’t think things through as a teen. So I chose not to get my license until I was 19 and thought I could handle it. Impulsivity was a big deal for me. But I was also a smart kid and knew I wanted to be careful and make good choices. So even though I tended to be impulsive, I was careful about my choices, involving my parents in decision making, asking for advice from trusted adults, and being cautious. This made a huge difference in me not making bad choices as a teen.

When I got married I was 20 which gives me the executive age of 13.33 according to our chart (which is a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule). No wonder I had so much trouble organizing our lives, managing our home, working a job, and paying bills! It makes so much sense now. I had to work so much harder than anyone I knew to do these things well.

The chart only goes up to 32 years of age. There is a reason for this. In the human adult, we reach our peak maturity in our early thirties. That means that however much the ADHD brain has developed by the early thirties is where it will stay. However, that does not mean that we cannot learn new coping mechanisms or better skills. It does, however, mean that ADHD adults tend to be about the same Executive Function Age as those who are in their 20s. This makes us a lot of fun actually! Executive function only refers to the regulatory part of our brains, not our intelligence or ability to learn new things. We may tend to be emotionally reactive, impulsive and disorganized compared to other people our age. Medication can help us make up that 30% difference no matter what age we are.

I hope this chart will help you better understand those around you who have ADHD. Please give them a lot of grace –and remind them that you love them no matter what.

If you have ADHD, give yourself a big hug for me. You are awesome. You have worked way harder than everyone else to get to where you are right now. ADHD people are my most favorite people in the whole world. On average, they are kind, loyal, honest, gracious, and compassionate. Don’t let the fact that you are awesome get lost in the science of ADHD. You know how you always felt like you need a housekeeper and a secretary? That is because those parts of your brain don’t work the same way as neurotypical people’s brains do. All those things require your frontal lobe to work efficiently –the frontal lobe is the very part of your brain affected by ADHD. It is okay. Find a tribe of ADHD people who get you. Educate those around you about ADHD. And, above all else, give yourself a lot of grace.

If you have ADHD, leave a comment and let me know how it affects your life –do you feel the 30% behind? Or maybe this average isn’t true for you.

If you are a parent of an ADHD child, I would love to hear if this post and graphic helps you to understand your child better.

You can download a copy of the above graphic “What’s My ADHD Child’s Executive Age?” to print for yourself here.

You can also download a pdf worksheet to evaluate if your child’s ADHD treatment is helping his or her symptoms here.

If you found this information helpful, I would be honored if you would subscribe to my blog or follow my Facebook page.

Blessings,

Sarah Forbes

P.S. The information in this post, and particularly the chart, is based on a video series by Dr Russell Barkley. You can find the video series at the bottom of this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, there are many other posts on my blog about ADHD such as:

13 Facts Parents of ADHD Children Should Know

17 Things Your ADHD Child Would Tell You If He Could

Start Here to Learn More About Homeschooling an ADHD Child

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44 thoughts on “What Is My ADHD Child’s Executive Function Age?”

    1. It was so eye openning for me as someone who has ADHD. It was like my whole life suddenly made sense. I have an explanation of why I struggled so much. I’m glad it helped you, too!

    2. I have adult add and yes absolutely I have always felt i would do the best w a housekeeprr and a secretary. Not in an lazy or an i dont want to do those things type of way but more as a desperate need to function better in my life. I have plowed through w this throughout my life and i love my life- but it can be difficult at times just functioning within the confusion of the add. I love it but i also hate it. Cannot begin to imagine what it would have been like to not have had it. Not saying it would have been better just easier more organized. Meds help but they never totally fix the problems that having add can cause. .

    3. According to statistics, 50% of ADHD people on medication are able to function like neurotypical people. However, that was not my experience either. I still really struggled on meds, and now I’m not able to take them at all. I think the absolute best thing for me was finding a group of ADHD people who understood me. It really makes a difference and helps you see yourself in a different light. I hope you can or have found people who understand and accept you. (((((Hugs)))))

    4. Wow! Thank you for this article! I have always said that my Aspergers/Autism diagnosed son acted more like a 6 year old even though he is 10 and not really like a classic Autistic child. He has severe ADHD. Most of his therapists do not agree that he is Autistic since he has none of the classic symptoms. One of them told me outright, “He’s not Autistic. I work with Autistic children”. He is very loving and outgoing with no communicative issues at all. He is just very immature for his age. I have often thought that he is not Autistic at all even though he was diagnosed as such by a Children’s Hospital study. I think they are very quick to put children into this category and it does them a disservice.

      All of his “symptoms” make sense if his executive age is truly around 6. Even now he is just starting to be fully potty-trained (#1 is fine #2 is problematic). And it wasn’t so much that he went in his pants (heavy skid-marking from trying to hold it) but did not want to stop doing what he was doing to go sit on the toilette. “It will take 5 hours!” was a common complaint from him. And this would be expected from a 6 year old.

      He also has problems maintaining friendships with his “peers” and I have always thought this was due to his immaturity compared to them. He gets along much better with younger kids.

      I am energized now with hope that he will develop normally albeit a bit behind. I am also thinking that I want him to remain in 5th grade and not move onto 6th grade. I think this will help him more in the long-run. But he is where he should be academically (in special ed, at least) and schools are not willing to hold someone back for maturity reasons. That is too bad as I think he would greatly benefit from another year to catch up with his peers.

      He is also on medication (Abilify) to help him regulate his emotions. He has been on this for around 4 years and it has done wonders for him in this area. Literally he made a 180 degree turn the first week he was on it and we went from getting daily calls from the school to come get him to nothing at all.

      Thanks again!

      Robert

  1. This article makes my heart happy. My son is 11 and still enjoys playing with his Nerf guns, army men, and other things children like to do. I’ve always said I love the fact he is this way because I don’t want him to grow up fast. He is reaching his teen years so I’m expecting it. I don’t know many 11 year olds that are this way. But reading this article and his actual age to his executive age, makes perfect sense of why he is this way. I love reading articles to help me better understand my son. Thank You!

  2. This explains a lot. I have so many traits of ADHD as an adult and many fit in the executive function category! My daughter and I joke about her being “4” and she’s 17! (Almost 18) For years she’s taken that 10 off but she decided 4 was it! She’s sweet and caring, and stubborn. And just as disorganized as I am! Realistically, with the support she had had, I would definitely say 12 is about right for her. And I probably did stop at a twenty-something level. No wonder my husband wonders what I would do without him!

  3. As a man with recently diagnosed ADHD this makes a lot of sense. I was so behind in my development emotionally. Now I am a couple of months into 40 and am really learning how to navigate life. Emotions are so hard to navigate. Now we suspect that our oldest son is ADHD as well. 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing! What has been helpful to you in “learning how to navigate life”? I’d love some insight into your process.

  4. I’m crying. Someone finally totally gets it. I myself have ADHD and my three children ages 19, 11 and 7 also have it. It’s heartbreaking that the majority of people in our lives do not seem to understand us. We are often treated very poorly and have few friends. Many people in our lives don’t think ADHD is even a real disability. My prayer is that more awareness like this article can be spread to school staff members and as a mandatory piece of information they need to better understand and recognize ADHD. More awareness and education to the general public as well to help end the negative remarks we hear about we should have been spanked more, or we are irresponsible etc…. We are trying so hard to be “normal”, whatever that is. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for the virtual hug inside it too, I needed that.

  5. My son is 9 and has ADHD and school is a struggle for us.. although I have read, reread everything I can put my hand on along with what his therapist offers. There are still days I get so upset with him.. this article has helped a lot.. thanks

  6. What is the source / study that the ” 30% behind” statistic came from? I don’t see a reference. Thank you.

  7. Hi. Thank you for this. I found it very interesting. I am a school psychologist and work with many children with ADHD. I’m wondering if this information is research-based? If so, could you point me to the research?

    1. Can you please point to the specific video or research paper that the numbers and ages come from?

    2. Sarah,
      I can’t thank you enough for posting this video on FB a couple of months ago. It was life changing for me! Dr. Barkley basically layed out my entire young life, (of pain, failure, being lonely and misunderstood,) in that seminar. But, he also provided the way toward understanding, self-acceptance, and suggestions for treatment. I am a 62 year old ADHD mom and I homeschool our son, who was born with Down Syndrome, and has many of the ADD symptoms. God has given me a lot of patience and compassion for our son, having gone through so many trials during my younger years. Thanks to your blog and Dr. Barkley’ video, I’ve been able to understand that most of my struggles we not my fault… a wonderful gift after all these years. Also explains why I always feel so much younger than my contemporaries, HA! For us, 60 is the new 40, LOVE IT! Thank you Sarah!

  8. My son has ADD. He is very intelligent and could be classified as mentally gifted. He had a 504 plan in high school and some teachers struggled with understanding why. We would always have to explain that one part of his brain is overdeveloped and the other half is missing. I love the chart. It explains everything. He is in his first year of college and academically doing quite well. But my husband and I still have to help remind him of things he needs to take care of and my husband pays all the bills for his apartment. No way he could handle that responsibility. The chart chart explains it. He is only 13.

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful. As someone who is gifted with ADHD myself I understand this stuggle. I didn’t learn about my ADHD until my 30s. I spent years wondering why I was so inept. What a great way to support your son! Kudos to you both for being his support system. ❤❤❤

  9. I WISH I had known this eons ago I have 2 adhd adult children and three known adhd grandchild your blog is really helping me in looking back on them and my attitude towards them. What an eye opener

  10. My ADHD son is 19 and has struggled all his life. This article explains so much as to why I have to organize and maintain so much of his life. Thanks so much. Will definitely follow your blog.

  11. Sister of a 29 year old man with adhd and this explains a lot – drugs, not paying bills even though he has the money, etc.

    I thought my parents were “enabling” him by bailing him out time and time again and my mom becoming his secretary, housekeeper, and accountant.

    This is an interesting angle that has me thinking about it a little differently.

    Glad to see he could still “mature” in the next couple of years. I’ll be sending my mom this article too.

  12. This was great, you clearly have a great understanding of ADHD. I was at a conference last year, and the presenter kept saying ADHD should actually be called EFDD. Referring to executive functioning deficit disorder. Which I thought was so on the nose. Great article.

  13. There is so much truth in this graphic and the explanations. My oldest has ADHD and definitely struggles with EF. He is just 14, and my husband and I always say he’d make a kick-butt 6th grader..and according to this, he really would! It’s a great reminder. My second has autism and ADHD, and this clearly is where he’s at. Even at 11, he’s really only like a 7.5 year old. Thank you for this!!!

  14. YES, YES, YES, and again YES.
    This is wonderful.
    I will be showing the chart to my Husband. And older daughter. Just to remind them that she is behind others her own age. I have understood for awhile, it is still frustrating
    at times though. For Nicole and for us as well. This will always be a gentle reminder, that as awesome as Nicole is, she still has a way to go.

  15. Thank you for the reminder
    My husband and I went to an adhd seminar years ago and it was an eye opener
    My son was officially diagnosed with inattentive adhd in grade 6 but the signs were always there he was always the last done, daydreamer easily distracted. We worked really hard to get him back on track and yes we put him on medication. This was a great choice within a few months his grades were increasing he was making friends and his confidence was so much better. Now my son is 18, he is everything you described loyal kind respectful, however he stopped his medication a year ago and his grades have plummeted as his confidence has as well. I’ve had numerous conversations with him about starting them up again so he can graduate start thinking about a career but nothing seems to work…any suggestions? I do love him no matter what he chooses and Ann very proud of who he is I just want him to be successful in life and I don’t want him to regress if what he had built for himself

    1. I’m sorry it took so long to reply. It’s been a crazy week at my house. 😁

      ADHD people can be very successful regardless of their education. Many of us get disenchanted with high school especially those of us who are bright. We are often interested in doing things we’re interested in rather than what we’re supposed to. This is part of the reason that we are something like 300x more likely to be entrepreneurs and start our own businesses than neurotypical people. So, even if your son doesn’t finish high school or doesn’t go to college, that doesn’t mean that he won’t be successful and even happy with his life in the future. I know that ideally, he would finish high school, but I don’t want you to feel like all hope is lost if he doesn’t.

      As far as medication goes, he’s an adult now. So there’s only so much you can do. You could find out why he stopped. Did he lack the funds for the medication? Does he dislike how it makes him feel? Were there side effects? Does he think people will think less of him? Does he think he shouldn’t need it? There must have been a negative that outweigh the positive in his mind resulting in his choice to stop. Or, maybe he simply can’t remember to take them. That struggle is very real.

      Unfortunately young people –and especially those of us who have ADHD– often have to learn the hard way. Even if the medication is the best thing for him, he may need to try things his way and see for himself. Be there to encourage him and refrain from saying “I told you so” if his way doesn’t work.

      He might not be willing to, but if he took medication and went to cognitive behavioral therapy, he might develop coping mechanisms to the point that he would not need medication anymore. If his goal is to not be on medication, then this might be worth mentioning.

      Above all, he needs an ADHD tribe. Medication or not he needs to know he’s not alone, that he’s accepted the way he is, that other people with ADHD succeed with and without medication, and so forth. He needs to learn about his condition and about his brain so he can understand how it works. I work with parents of ADHD children, and a huge step toward managing the ADHD is simply understanding what’s going on. I highly recommend the YouTube channel called “How to ADHD.” Jessica McCabe who runs the channel has created a safe place for ADHDers to learn about their condition and share their struggles.

      I hope that helps. I know we ADHDers can be a challenge but what a blessing that he has you for a support system! Good job, mama! ❤❤❤

  16. Wow. Suddenly, a whole lot of things make much more sense…
    I have spent so many years fighting myself, and so many years being misunderstood, and sometimes mistreated.
    I had never heard about executive function until today…

  17. Oh Sarah! You have no idea how much you have helped our family!! I’ve read a few of your articles and am so encouraged and inspired by what you are saying. We adopted two half-sisters as infants who are 20 months apart in age. The older one was 6 months old when we got her, and we knew something was different about her from the start. Sixteen months later her 9 week old sister was placed with us, and the differences became even more obvious as they’ve grown.

    Our lives with the younger one are centered around dance, karate, and cheer and the around the older one with psychiatrist appointments, Behavioral Therapy sessions, IEP’ meetings, and medication. It’s like we do all the fun stuff with the younger one and just try to figure out how to survive with the older one.

    She is now 9 years old, and life is a mixture of frustration and joy. She has an amazing and creative mind and a smile that lights up a room. It feels like I have a perpetual 5 year old though who gets into everything no matter how diligent I am about locking things up, and she can’t put anything away or clean anything to save her life. I feel like my husband and I are learning how to accept her differences and work with her in helping her learn how to function in the real world, but getting the real world to work with us on it is challenging. Home schooling isn’t an option for us for a number of reasons, but I’m so surprised at just how little training teachers get in learning to work with, accommodate, and integrate their ADHD students into the mainstream classroom. What’s more alarming and upsetting is how these kids get labeled and subsequently blamed for every single thing instead of the school personnel taking the time to gather all the facts.

    We have a long road ahead of us, and my goal is to guide her toward adulthood to be a productive member of society by working with her strengths and channeling her weaknesses. It’s frustrating and exhausting, but I know there’s hope and I won’t give up. Thank you for reminding me of that hope.

  18. AH HA!!! I’m not hopeless, useless, or out of luck after all!! My goodness, I can’t tell you what this means. For myself, and my ADHD twins too!! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!

  19. Question. Does this apply to predominantly inattentive type as well or just to predominantly hyperactive-impulsive?

  20. Thank you Thank you! When my son was first evaluated, I read what I could on ADHD. As he has grown into an awesome 13 year old, I have wondered why he seemed so immature in comparison to kids his age or a couple years younger. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally ok with him not into girls just yet, it Is more of actions and tasks. I wish pediatricians would explain to parents.

    1. My 11 year old is immature for his age. Until I read your comment, i hadn’t connected that to his adhd, even after reading the article (which I still found insightful). He has many cousins his age and he doesn’t connect with them. He likes things that they don’t, like playing with toys still. He gets along with younger kids, they seem more like-minded.

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