Boy Struggling with ADHD in the Classroom

The Difference Between ADHD and Executive Function Disorder

While they share some of their respective symptoms, the definitions of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Executive Function Disorder aren’t quite the same. There is a definite difference between ADHD and Executive Function Disorder. A child or adult with ADHD might be hyperactive, inattentive, and/or impulsive, and while clinicians have always had a grasp on impulsivity and hyperactivity, the concept of inattention has evolved from a simple focus on “inability to stay on task” to a broader concept of “executive functioning”. Executive Functioning problems involve a pattern of chronic difficulties in executing daily tasks.

What is Executive Function?

First, let’s define executive function before analyzing the core elements of the disorder related to it. Around the time of puberty in a human, the frontal part of the brain’s cortex matures, enabling individuals to perform higher-level tasks such as those required in executive function – the easiest way to think about this is to imagine what the chief executive officer of a company is tasked with doing, including analyzing, organizing, deciding and executing most aspects of the business operations. Similarly, the six steps of human executive function encompass:

  1. ANALYZING a task
  2. PLANNING how to address the task
  3. ORGANIZING the required steps to complete the task
  4. DEVELOPING timelines for completing the task
  5. ADJUSTING or shifting the steps, if necessary
  6. COMPLETING the task in a timely fashion

When the Executive in the Brain Fails: Executive Function Disorder (EFD)

Wouldn’t it make sense, then, that someone experiencing issues with executive functioning may have problems analyzing, planning, organizing, scheduling and completing tasks? Children and adults with EFD exhibit issues with organizing materials and setting schedules; they misplace papers, reports and other school materials and often times will have similar problems keeping track of their personal items or even keeping their bedroom organized. No matter how hard they try, the failure rate remains.

Indeed, ADHD is a common misdiagnosis for those who are actually living with EFD.

The ADHD Factor

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most frequently-occurring brain-based disorders that neuroscience-focused organizations such as C8 Sciences studies. It most often manifests itself in childhood and continues to pose challenges throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Its symptoms include:

  • Difficulty getting and staying focused
  • Modulating attention
  • Controlling impulsivity
  • Self-managing behavior

While increasing numbers of articles and books refer to ADHD as a “disorder of executive function of the mind,” there have some conflicting views about how ADHD and executive function are related. One view suggests that some – not all – who meet a certain criteria for ADHD suffer from significant impairments of (executive) function. An alternative viewpoint holds that all individuals with ADHD suffer from significant impairment of executive function, and that ADHD is, essentially, a “developmental impairment of executive function.”

Child Struggling with ADHDWhat’s important to note here is that these conflicting viewpoints rest upon divergent understandings of the nature of executive functions and how these functions should be addressed – indeed, each leads to a different conclusion regarding the essential nature of ADHD and its relationship to other learning and psychiatric disorders.

The groundbreaking ACTIVATE™ program by C8 Sciences can dramatically improve the academic outcomes and behavior in students suffering from any of these symptoms. ACTIVATE™ categorizes executive function skills into eight core cognitive capacities, which form the building blocks for all learning. These include Sustained Attention, Working Memory, Speed of Information Processing, Response Inhibition, Cognitive Flexibility, Category Formation, Pattern Recognition and Multiple Simultaneous Attention.


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