ADHD & Executive Functioning

adhd & executive functioning relationship

The relationship between executive functioning and ADHD can be messy and confusing. As a parent, you may be wondering, Is my child struggling because of ADHD or executive functioning difficulties or perhaps, both?  

ADHD is a diagnosis found in the DSM -V and according to the CDC, “People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity–impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development”.  

According to the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University,“Executive function and self-regulation skills are like an air traffic control system in the brain—they help us manage information, make decisions, and plan ahead.  

Clearly, there is lots of overlap—put another way, perhaps this is a question best likened to the relationship between the chicken and the egg. 

“Friends That Walk Together”

Have you ever heard the term ‘comorbidity’ used to describe a student with overlapping conditions? Comorbidity is a technical term occasionally used to describe two conditions which appear simultaneously in a person. At Effective Students™, we say these two friends often “walk together”.  

Understanding the nexus and relationship between the two conditions determines what is an appropriate intervention.  For instance, it’s important to assess the following:

  • Is a student struggling due to the absence of a skill?
  • Is a student struggling due to the presence of a behavior?
  • Is a student having a hard time executing because they don’t know where to begin?
  • Is a student struggling because they lack focus?

These key questions determine where, when and how to intervene.  Unlocking the full academic potential of a student experiencing overlapping conditions often starts with asking the right questions.

Becoming an Effective Student

Being an Effective Student requires demonstrating skills across several key domains, which is why a roadmap is critical.  We often hear, my student lacks study skills, which may be true.  They also can’t study information they cannot locate. If they have ADHD, on their way to locating the information to ‘study’, they might find a ….video game. And if they find a video game…. Well you’ve read the book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff. Need I say more? In our house, we call this ‘squirrel’.  If you don’t believe me, watch a squirrel, they’re always distracted – but I digress.

Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Are they self-aware enough to realize that they’re missing assignments or social cues? 
  • Is their testing performance negatively impacted by a lack of impulse control?
  • Do they learn the value of academic grit when persevering on a difficult assignment?
  • Do they even know how to begin so they can succeed? 

Effective interventions must address one before another to ensure we don’t coddle a behavior or consequate a lack of skills.  Using a standard, neutral target of effective practice such as a curriculum, is important to identify which is in play and where to start.  

Academic Coaches: Determining Individual Learning Methods

On the learning journey, a good academic coach will ensure the student becomes ‘aware’, while remaining relatable.  Awareness is the first step to making more intentional choices and ultimately, self determination.  Ei voila! Maturity!  If it were only that easy.

One last critical component is to determine a student’s learning method.  If a student is kinesthetic or experiential, it will not matter how many times they are told, they must experience outcomes to make different choices.  If they are highly verbal and are only given experiences without a dialogue, they will not understand and become discouraged.  Presenting the obstacle with just enough instruction, encouragement and challenge builds confidence and competence in a student.   

With the right instruction and tools, students can become their own decision makers and drivers of their own learning and success.  

Is the Effective Student Method right for you? Schedule a 15 minute consult here to learn more.

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