To understand how ADHD affects your brain, it is important to know first how the brain works. The brain has billions of nerve cells, or neurons, that allow you to move, sense, think, feel, and act. Nerve cells communicate through electrical impulses that release transmitters, or chemicals that carry messages to the rest of the body, creating an elaborate network.
What does executive functioning mean?
Researchers have found that some parts of the brain mature more slowly or are smaller in children with ADHD, making it difficult for them to shift from one activity to another. The label “executive functioning”, first used in the 1970s, has now become a part of the discussion about accommodations for learning and coping strategies.
Executive functions serve as a control center for learning skills. They help you do things like organize your activities, write a research paper, or complete a science project. They provide the “map” for getting to where you want to go and fall into three main areas:
- Working memory
- Flexible thinking skills
Executive functioning can influence your ability to do these tasks:
- Make plans, set priorities, and organize
- Pay attention
- Start and complete tasks
- Regulate feelings
- Understand different points of view
- Monitor or keep track of actions
These skills start to develop during childhood, but they continue to grow during early adulthood. Sometimes, abilities improve as a person ages while others “hit the wall” as tasks get more complicated.
How does executive functioning impact people with ADHD?
You don’t have to have ADHD to have problems with executive functioning, but experts say people with ADHD always have challenges with executive functioning. That is because ADHD itself is a disorder caused by a weak executive function. Not all individuals with ADHD experience the same symptoms, and the symptoms usually change throughout their lives. ADHD may also be accompanied by difficulties like learning disabilities, slow processing skills, depression, and anxiety.
Although children and adults have different needs, both require structure and support. Children are most successful when they learn strategies for coping with challenges, discover niches where they can experience success, and understand the advantages of their creative thinking styles. People diagnosed as adults have often experienced years of discouragement in childhood. For them, finding strategies for coping with challenges and recognizing the reasons for their earlier difficulties offers insight and direction. Teens and adults may also enjoy having a personal coach to mentor and cheer them on.
Some say the same traits that challenge people with ADHD may also help them succeed, especially in fields where skills like flexibility and creative thinking are valued. Famous examples include comedian Howie Mandel, athlete Michael Phelps, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, JetBlue founder David Neeleman, and business tycoon Sir Richard Branson. For additional information about ADHD, contact McLean Counseling Center in McLean, VA.