What Is Executive Function?

If you have a child diagnosed with ADHD, or you have ADHD, you may have heard the term “executive function” – from a treatment specialist or in your own research and reading – and wondered exactly what it is.
In terms of how executive function relates to ADHD, understanding a little bit about it goes a long way to understanding the behaviour of someone diagnosed with the disorder.

So what is it? Its difficult to explain in laymen’s terms because so much of it is learned as you grow and it becomes second nature…
My favourite adult ADHD blogger, Zoë Kessler, wrote the following in a blog post:

I should have had an inkling about my absent ability to self-observe from the number of times I was told as a child, “I wish you could hear yourself!

Have you ever told your child with ADHD the same thing? How many times have you wanted to ask your ADHD son or daughter why they can’t remember to put their shoes on or brush their teeth every day?
Executive function affects just about everything you do, every day! Executive function is self-observation. Not learning from yesterday’s disaster’s is an inability to self-observe. Not remembering you were late yesterday because you didn’t leave the house on time is a lack of executive function.

If you are neuro-typical*, you know how to start your work day- whether its a set of tasks you perform every day or every day is different- you know, without thinking too hard about it, what to do to start each task and how to complete it. You know how to finish your work in order to make sure you meet deadlines and you can get home by a specific time every day.
You can estimate fairly accurately how much time has passed or how much time you have left for a deadline or before you change tasks without looking at a clock.
This is your executive function at work.
You know you have to get up at a certain time every morning in order to shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack a lunch and drive to school or work. As you grow and mature, you develop an innate intuition that constantly tells you- unconsciously- how much time you have left for a set of tasks- you know how long it takes you to eat breakfast, put make-up on, drive to work, and so on.
This is your executive function at work.

If you are neuro-atypical**, you are seldom on time without taking extreme steps or having someone assist you. If you have a child with ADHD this may go a little way to explaining drama you have in the morning – every SINGLE day.
Someone with ADHD can see the big picture in their heads. They can see the end product in every glorious detail, but the planning that is necessary to follow through with a task isn’t there.
They have no inhibition- they agree to plans and/ or invitations without checking a calendar or speaking to the rest of their family first.
Their working memory isn’t very good, meaning they battle to hold onto information long enough to use it to complete a task.
They’re always running out of tools and resources because they don’t properly plan, which links back to working memory.
They have no emotional control, its either hysterically funny or its the end of the world, and these reactions are aggravated by their frustration with not completing tasks or being criticised for bad or no organisation.

How does Executive Function affect learning? In school, at home or in the workplace, we’re called on all day, every day, to self-regulate behavior. Normally, features of executive function are seen in a person’s ability to:

  • make plans
  • keep track of time & keep track of more than one thing at once
  • meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
  • engage in group dynamics
  • evaluate ideas, change their mind & make mid-course and corrections while thinking, reading & writing
  • reflect on their work
  • finish work on time
  • ask for help
  • wait to speak until they’re called on
  • seek more information when they need it

So yes, children and adults with ADHD come across as lazy and unorganised, and yes executive function can be improved and coping mechanisms learned, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of focus.

Links you might want to click to read more about it:

Executive functioning, very simply put, is that part of the brain that coordinates and organizes information
Executive functions let you organize a trip, a research project, or a paper for school
Helping Children with Executive Functioning Problems Stop Irritating Behavior
Helping Children with Executive Functioning Problems to Manage Physical Impulsiveness
Helping Children with Executive Functioning Problems Turn In Their Homework
Lazy Kid or Executive Dysfunction?
* your brain works “normally”, you do not have ADHD
**your brain is wired differently, you have ADHD
Disclaimer: I am not a professional anything. I have ADHD – not officially diagnosed – and I’m a mom to an adult with ADHD. What I write is based on what I have learned in living with and researching mine and my son’s disorder.

In The News Today

I heard about a school district in Maryland, USA that has put in restrictions on birthday party invitations, hugs, parental access to school grounds and cake.
Most of the changes were brought about after the school shootings in December. I totally understand some of the rules the 17 schools in this district have applied, but some of them are a little far fetched…


You’re no longer allowed to hug any children except your own.
Restricting physical contact is fine by me – there are some real weirdos out there. Although I don’t know about you but I don’t think I hugged any of my son’s school friends, and certainly not on school property!

Only registered school volunteers are allowed on the playground.
Again, keeping the weirdos out is fine by me.

Only store-bought baked goods can be sent to school for a class party.
This is to make sure they can verify all the ingredients in the baked goods and avoid allergic reactions. Whilst I understand this, I do feel that home-made baked goodies are healthier…

Party invitations can no longer be sent to the school and parents should develop an email and phone list instead.
They have implemented this restriction because children were getting their feelings hurt if they didn’t get an invitation!
This is the one I think is ridiculous! Children are resilient and they can take a lot more than you think they can. If there is anyone on this planet who is protective of their child, its me – but you can go overboard.

Not everyone likes the new rules. Some parents think enforcing the hugging restriction will be difficult because sometimes the child approaches the adult, but I think thats a stupid argument. You’re a grown up FCOL – wave hello and walk away. And some parents are upset that they won’t be able to go to school and have lunch with their kids, and that even though registered volunteers are allowed on the playground they’re not allowed to push other people’s children on the swings…

What do you think?

What Is Proprioception?

…proprioception is the sense of the orientation of one’s limbs in space… Without proprioception, we’d need to consciously watch our feet to make sure that we stay upright while walking.
Proprioception is something many ADHDers battle with. Perhaps I can try and explain it in laymen’s terms…
When a neuro-typical person with properly developed proprioception is working on a PC or reading a book, and they look away- they can look back at their screen or page in exactly the same place and continue what they were doing. This can be done repeatedly. Proprioception means their brain keeps an equivalent of a “bookmark” for them.
Now think of a neuro-atypical ADHDer in a classroom. They have the board in the front of the class and a book or a screen on their desk. They look from the board to their page and it takes a few seconds to find their place on the page- whether they’re reading or writing. When they look back up at the board, they again have to take a few seconds to orientate to where they were looking the last time before they can focus again. Each time they look at their book or the board they lose a few seconds of what the teacher is showing them or saying because they have to work very hard to re-focus.
For an ADHDer in a classroom, its kind of like watching a movie that’s jumping and skipping, they lose the plot completely.
A lack of proprioception is also often what makes ADHDers come across as clumsy, even when they seem fearless. Sports like gymnastics and martial arts are very good ways of building proprioception in ADHD children. I know I have ADHD, though its never been diagnosed formally. I have also learned my own coping mechanisms over the years- but my own proprioception sucks. When I am walking I have to watch the floor or the ground to see where my feet have to go, else I will trip, often over nothing! If I walk outside or attempt to go hiking or some such- I have to stop walking to actually look around and enjoy the scenery because if I try to see it while I walk- in other words, without watching my feet- I will trip. I fall over my own feet if I can’t see the stairs when I am walking down them. I can’t get on an escalator without holding on to the railing or watching the steps very carefully.
Can you see any ways that your ADHDer battles with proprioception?
You can read more here and here.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional anything. I’m a mom to an almost-adult ADHDer. What I write is purely my opinion on things I feel strongly about, based on my experience as an ADHDer parent.

Old Notebook Entries…

These scribbles are from 2006/ 2007 I think… I may even have blogged them before but when I found an old notebook that used to live in my handbag I was surprised by some of the scribbles I found in it. I think I’m going to be posting snippets from the book for a while.


First day of highschool.


Damien opted for his full winter uniform- blazer and all. It was cold, rainy and overcast- perfect.

He could barely sleep last night for excitement and this morning when I parked outside the school he got nervous, and Damien nervous is very serious and quiet… I hope no-one misinterprets.

The school kids filled the hall, parents who opted to stay were in the gallery for the assembly, where the matric learners would usually sit. My first thought when I stepped into the gallery was “I never got here”.

The new grade 8 learners waited outside and when they were called had to troop across the stage and down to the floor while the school screamed and cheered and whistled and clapped. The newbies were carrying their baby picture name tag posters with them as they walked and they each had a sticker on their foreheads- Damien’s was neon green (like his poster)- and others were orange. I’ll have to ask him what that means.*

The thing that struck me with Damien – he’s alone. I took almost all my grade 7 classmates to highschool with me, he knows no-one here. I pray he’ll make some new friends soon.

*I didn’t ask…


Who Do You Tell About Your Child’s ADHD?

I have spoken many times about talking to your child- and to your family- about your child’s ADHD diagnosis and how it is being treated. And I have spoken about talking to people close to you about how it affects every aspect of your and your child’s life. I have also spoken about talking to your ADHD child’s school and teachers about it, and asking for their help, especially since we do not have a formal individual education plan in South Africa.

There’s one aspect of talking about your child’s ADHD that I’ve never covered here.

Talking to your boss.

Are you frowning at your screen?


Think about it.

If you have a school-age ADHDer, how many times a month do you need to ask your boss for time off to dash to the school for an emergency of some kind, attend a meeting at the school, or take your child to the doctor?

Speech therapy, occupational therapy, extra lessons, play therapy, seeing your ADHD treatment specialist, psycho-therapy and various other appointments can’t always be scheduled after working hours or for weekends. If you’re lucky your child may have access to some therapy specialists at his or her school, but that doesn’t happen very often. This means asking for time off for various doctor’s appointments for your ADHD child. And since ADHD children are often overly adventurous because they can’t imagine the consequences, you may spend a lot of time getting stitches and x-rays too, which means suddenly having to leave work early or going in late because you’ve had to get to an emergency room. And I’m speaking from experience here.

Sadly, there is such a pall of shame associated with having an ADHD child that most parents would rather nobody knew about it, and whilst I hate to compare ADHD to other illnesses and disabilities, I can illustrate my viewpoint better with an example. Keeping quiet would not apply if your child was afflicted with a visible disability, or an illness like asthma or diabetes. Asthmatic or diabetic children have everyone and their dog know about it because their parents want to make sure people are aware of problematic symptoms and can take steps to prevent a potential problem, or contact mom should the need arise. If your child was physically disabled you wouldn’t be ashamed to tell people, and in all likelihood your bosses and colleagues would know about it too. If your child had a physical disability, or cancer or asthma or diabetes, you would probably be asked what to do in an emergency- or how to handle your child in general.

But we don’t talk about it.

And as a result of never talking, we as parents are labelled as lax or negligent.

In my opinion- and again this is a lesson I took too long to learn- everyone you interact with on a regular basis will be affected by your child’s ADHD at some point (directly or indirectly), and they should know about it. Whether they “believe” ADHD is a real problem or not, they need to understand that it is very real for you and for your child. And it will affect your job on occasion.

Telling your employer you have a special needs child means that they are forewarned for when you need to dash off to yet another doctor’s appointment, or are summoned to the school or aftercare again. Your boss knowing you have a special needs child may make him or her a little sympathetic when you come to work with puffy eyes after crying yourself to sleep for the third night in a row. Telling your employer doesn’t mean you are looking for sympathy- your boss is not a social worker or a shrink after all- but your employer needs to know when there’s something going on that can affect your job.

And telling your boss you are raising a special needs child creates awareness in another person, who may well be dealing with a special needs child themselves.