Executive function is defined as “self-directed actions needed to sustain problem-solving towards a goal.”
“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)
ADHD is an executive function disorder.
Because of the asynchronous growth in their brains, ADHD people struggle with executive function.
It is a daily struggle.
Since so much of life requires executive functions, it is easy for those of us with ADHD to deplete our executive function ability –or our executive function tank.
Different activities can either fill or tax our executive function. When the tank runs out, the ability for self-restraint is gone resulting in blowups and meltdowns –even in adults with ADHD.
“The executive function has a limited fuel tank, and you can spend it out real quick. Every time you use an executive function and you use it continuously, you empty the tank. And, if you get to the bottom of the tank, in the next situation, you will have no self-control. This is the ADHD child after school. It [the executive function] is gone, and you want to do homework? You’re out of your mind! So, you’ve got to refuel that tank, and that tank has a very limited capacity.” –Dr. Russell Barkley
What taxes the tank? How can we refuel the tank?
The most useful perspective on ADHD is to view it as a chronic disability.
“ADHD is the diabetes of psychiatry. It is a chronic disorder that must be managed every day to prevent the secondary harms it is going to cause, but there is no cure for this disorder. They [those with ADHD and their loved ones] need to view ADHD as diabetes of the brain. It’s a chronic disorder.” –Dr. Russell Barkley
Like with any disability, those with ADHD will need the support from those around them to succeed.
I hope this chart helps you better understand what is going in with your ADHD friends and family.
You can learn more about executive function on this post:
To learn more about ADHD in general, there is a great video at the bottom of this post. The video is a 3 hour long series by the wonderful ADHD advocate Dr. Russell Barkley.
Many of the ideas in this post have come from Dr Barkley. The concept of an executive function tank came from the video in the bottom of this blog post:
I hope you find this information helpful. If you enjoyed this post, I would be honored if you would subscribe to my blog or follow me on Facebook.
You can also download a worksheet here to help you evaluate if your child’s ADHD treatment plan is working.
Please remember to give your ADHD loved one or friend lots of grace. They have a brain that works differently than the brains of neurotypical people.
I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I cannot diagnose your child or offer you medical advice. Most of this information comes from Dr. Barkley’s videos –many of which are available on YouTube. There are many links in this post to more information about these topics, but since I am not a scientist or a researcher, I am unable to provide you with double-blind studies. I am just a writer and artist making posts and images based on information I have seen and read from ADHD professionals in an effort to raise ADHD awareness. I encourage you to look into these ideas yourself and follow the links provided. If you Google “Executive Function + Dr. Russell Barkley” there is a lot of information available online.