Executive Function & ADD/ADHD - Part I

executive-function-and-add-adhd.jpg(Part one of this two-part series examines the relationship between executive functioning issues and ADD or ADHD.)


ADD, ADHD, EFD, IEP. If you are encountering all these acronyms for the first time, you might feel as if you are wading in alphabet soup. How are these terms related?

First, let’s do a little decoding.

ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder

According to Additude: Inside the ADHD Mind: “Symptoms include forgetfulness and poor focus, organization, and listening skills.”

ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Children with this disorder typically display much higher energy levels than those formerly diagnosed with ADD. ADHD is becoming a far more common diagnosis.

EFD – Executive Function Disorder (also referred to as Executive Functioning Issues)

EFD can manifest as difficulty with structure, planning, or scheduling.

IEP – Individualized Education Program. This is a legal document which details what educational services your child is entitled to at his or her school. Part of setting up an individualized program usually involves assigning a team to work with your family.

Free PDF Download: What are Executive Functioning Skills, and Why Do They Matter?

Let’s delve a little deeper.

The line between EFD and ADD/ADHD can be hard to see. The two often appear together. Janice Rodden, in her article “What is Executive Function Disorder?”, observes, “Attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) and executive functions are tightly linked, but far from synonymous.” A child who is diagnosed with ADD or ADHD frequently needs help with executive functioning skills. However, a student with executive functioning issues may not have ADD or ADHD.

There are at least two major differences between ADD/ADHD and EFD.

There is no medical diagnosis for EFD (as there is for ADD and ADHD). According to the team at Understood: for Learning and Attention Issues, “ADHD is an official diagnosis. Executive functioning issues is not. It’s a term that refers to weaknesses in the brain’s self-management system.”

While medication is an option for ADD/ADHD, Understood states that “there are no medications just for executive functioning issues.”

When it comes to symptoms, things get a little more complex. Certain behaviors are symptomatic of EFD, ADD, or ADHD. Some of these behaviors are unique to one disorder; some are shared.

As a parent, you can pass your everyday observations on to your child’s doctor, psychologist, or educators. Below are examples of symptoms common to all three disorders.  Trouble starting or completing projects. It’s the night before an oral presentation is due. Brendan has known about the assignment for a week, but he has not researched the topic or written a speech. He has been home from school since 3:30. In that time, he has played a video game, retaped a fallen poster, eaten dinner, found a previously lost textbook, and finished an overdue worksheet. Finally, at 9:00, he sighs, goes to the computer, and clicks on the link that gives him instructions on creating the presentation.

Trouble with self-control or emotions. Brendan loves video games and is quite good at them. However, when he cannot beat an opponent, he often yells loudly. Once the neighbors called the police because they were convinced someone was hurt!

Trouble with organizing space or materials. Every week, Brendan empties a wrinkled mass of paper out of his backpack onto his desk. The pile is growing, and papers constantly fall to the floor. In addition to the paper mountain, the desk holds two old phones, unwashed cups, and notebooks of tips for an online game Brendan plays with his friends. Brendan can no longer find space on the desk to work, so he studies at the kitchen table.

What can you do if you think your child needs help? Here are some suggestions:

Don’t rush to label. A parent’s job, if a student is struggling, is to avoid jumping to conclusions or “pigeonholing.” The student could suffer from either, both, or neither of the disorders discussed here. Girls and boys, for example, can differ in the way they exhibit symptoms, and of course each child is unique.

Educate yourself. Get as much information as you can. Investigate some of the links in this article! However, remember that no website, article, or well-meaning friend can diagnose or treat your child. Diagnoses should always be left to qualified professionals.

Which leads us to….

Consult the experts. Be proactive. Talk to medical, psychological, and educational professionals. Take notes and ask questions. If you receive information you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Get second opinions. All this is a lot of work, but it ensures that your child gets as much support as you can possibly give.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our focus is always on you. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help your student with standardized testing, executive function skills, or achievemenin any other school subject. If you would like more information, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware are available to answer questions and provide solutions. You may reach either of them by calling A+ Test Prep and Tutoring at 215-886-9188.

(Part two of this series will look in more detail at some of the characteristics of Executive Function Disorder.)

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