One of the features of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD) is ADHD child’s Executive Functions or Executive Dysfunction. Executive dysfunction happens when an ADHD child has a problem with the executive functions of the brain. Executive functions of the brain are responsible and are used for achieving many day-to-day tasks. Individuals, both adults, and children with ADHD suffer from challenges caused by impairment of the brain’s executive functioning.
The Executive Functions
What are the executive functions? They are like the body’s boss, responsible for analyzing, organizing, deciding and execution. As we grow, the frontal part of the cortex, where these functions are processed, matures. This growth allows individuals to perform tasks that require a higher level of executive skills. There are 7 key skills that determine the strength of the brain’s executive functions:
- Planning and problem-solving – this is how we manage information inside our head and how we can come up with new ideas or a plan to solve an existing problem
- Verbal working memory – internal speech. This is a skill that is characterized by how an individual is able to talk to himself inside his thoughts or some call “inner monologue”
- Non-verbal working memory – this is the ability to retain things in our head. It is the ability to picture things mentally.
- Emotional regulation – the ability to control emotional responses, basing from the information processed by all the other executive functions.
- Self-awareness – being able to judge and be conscious of your own character and feelings
- Self-motivation – your ability to motivate yourself to finish a task without any external rewards
- Inhibition – self-reservation
How to Boost Executive Functions in ADHD Kids
For kids who are still starting to figure things out at school and at home, impairment of the brain’s executive functions can be frustrating. In school, a child starts to learn reading, spelling, writing, solving math problems – all of which requires the executive functions of the brain. But how can they do these successfully when they have ADHD getting in the way?
For parents, here are a few tips to boost your ADHD child’s executive functions to help improve his abilities in his social and academic demeanour.
- Implement accountability
Though your child’s ADHD is not his fault and it is not the failure to recognize the outcomes of his actions, you should not excuse your child from being accountable for the things he did. Holding your ADHD kid accountable with his actions is showing your child that you have faith in his abilities to do what is needed.
- Write things down
Because your child is having a hard time remembering things, write it all down. Use signs, sticky notes, to-lists and journal- anything that can display information he can see directly. It will be easier for him to juggle with his working memory.
- Concretize time
Because time can come as a concept, your child might be having a hard time finishing tasks and meeting his mini deadlines. Materialize time using clocks, timers, alarms, etc. to remind your child how much time has passed and how much time he has left for the task. It a simple way to beat time blindedness – ADHD’s eternal enemy.
- Reward your child.
An individual who struggles with the executive functions will have a hard time motivating himself to finish a task especially if it has no tangible or physical rewards. Tackle this issue in your ADHD child by using rewards to motivations external to improve your child’s core self-motivation.
- Take time to recharge.
For people with ADHD, executive functions can come in limited amounts of time. It helps to take a break and recharge to get back to work with minimal distractions. Give your child a chance to recharge while doing a task that exhausts the executive systems.
- Tangible learning.
Because executive dysfunction can challenge the verbal and non-verbal working memory, it helps to make learning as physical as possible. Use tangible objects like blocks and M&Ms to teach basic mathematics. This will aid their working memories and help build other executive functions in the process.
- Sweat it out.
Engage your child in physical activities like sports. Because exercise and physical activities increase the supply of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, it helps ease the symptoms of ADHD and boost your child’s executive function skills at the same time.
- Be your child’s number one supporter.
People with ADHD are just as talented and brilliant as others. Kids with ADHD just have a hard time showing their skills because of their challenges in executive functioning. It is important that you understand your child and you are willing to do what it takes to help him hurdle through these challenges. Show compassion when your child commits mistakes. Identify your child’s weaknesses and help him develop his strengths.
Awareness of the brain’s executive functions will help you parents develop strategies in aiding your child in overcoming his challenges at school, at home and with his peers.