Executive Functioning Chaos
Saturday, November 2, 2013
by JULI SHULEM
An individual with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) more often than not really struggles to just get through the day. What, you may be asking, is so difficult about living with ADHD? Isn’t that just someone who is hyper and can’t stay focused long enough to get anything done?
Allow me to share some of the difficulties that a person with ADHD lives with, but first a short biology lesson. The part of the brain that is responsible for the symptoms is the frontal lobe. This is where the executive functions skills reside in the brain. To make it very simple, there are neurons that send information from one to another across the synapse (gap) between the axons (ends of the neuron) via neurotransmitters. Without these neurotransmitters (norepinephrine and dopamine) the information gets lost in the gap and essentially stops right there. So the thought processing, memory retrieval, and control center of the brain just isn’t firing on all cylinders. A person with ADHD is low on these neurotransmitters, so the information that should travel from neuron to neuron doesn’t and the things a person plans and attempts to do, simply doesn’t get done. So when a person with ADHD is told to just “try harder” it makes no difference how hard they may try, the circuitry just isn’t working for things to happen as they wish.
A professional I spoke with many years ago had a wonderful way of explaining this to children, which I always have loved: Imagine that the frontal lobe is like the Manager of your thoughts, actions, reactions, and ability to stay on task and complete something. This Manager makes sure you finish what you start, helps determine what you will pay attention to, and what you will not notice. The Manager filters out unnecessary information, such as the noise across the street, and keeps you aware of time passing so you don’t miss important events. This manager also helps you to plan, prioritize, be organized, strategize, think before acting (impulsivity), and be able to control your movement.
An ADHD person’s manager is on an extended vacation!
So, this is much more than someone who may fidget and not finish things once begun. Here is a list of the most common symptoms associated with ADHD: Combined Type:
- Difficulty sustaining attention
- Difficulty with organization
- Easily distracted
- Cannot follow a sequence of information
- Struggles to follow through on instructions
- Loses things
- Forgetful in daily activities
- Difficulty sustaining mental effort
- Difficulty transitioning to new activities
- Talks excessively
- Impulsivity in many situations
- May hyper-focus to the exclusion of all other activities
- Inability to notice time passing
- Difficulty going to sleep and/or waking up
So if you want to know what it feels like to experience a day with the symptoms of ADHD, simply avoid sleep for at least 48 hours straight. See how well you pay attention, remember what you are told, and avoid distractions…it won’t be so easy.