Executive Function

Executive Function can been equated to the conductor of the orchestra who decides what music to play and when and how—and who makes the musicians perform well together as an orchestra.

Deficits in executive function are a key element of ADHD. These deficits lead to delays in independent functioning, so children with ADHD often behave more like younger children. Russell Barkley, PhD, has estimated children with ADHD develop their executive function at about 2/3rds the rate of their peers.

Executive Function Components

The components of executive function that impact functioning at school or work are:

  • working memory and recall (holding facts in mind while manipulating information; accessing facts stored in long-term memory)
  • activation, arousal and effort (getting started; choosing what to pay attention to and shifting attention at will; completing work)
  • emotion control (tolerating frustration; thinking before acting or speaking)
  • internalizing language (using self-talk to control one’s behavior and direct future actions)
  • complex problem solving (taking an issue apart, analyzing the pieces, reconstituting and organizing them into new ideas)


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