Executive functions include the ability to make and follow plans; to control our behaviour and emotional reactions (not our actual emotions, but how we express them); and to manage our time and keep ourselves organized.
If you look at the diagnostic criteria for ADHD in the DSM-5, you will see a list of things that indicate that we have poor executive functions:
- Doesn’t follow through on instructions and doesn’t finish projects or tasks.
- Struggles to organize tasks and activities.
- Loses important/necessary materials.
- Forgets things on a daily basis.
- Fidgets a lot.
- Gets up and moves around when expected to sit still.
- Makes a lot of noise.
- Talks a lot.
- Says things without thinking.
- Doesn’t wait turns very well.
- Interrupts in conversations.
In addition to these things, Executive Dysfunction often includes difficulty in getting started (initiation) as well as in switching tasks (inertia).
Some things can be learned: for example, ADHDers benefit from learning to use a planner and lists to keep track of tasks and to break down larger tasks into smaller steps.
Some things can be adapted, such as using a timer to remind yourself that you need to switch tasks.
But many things either can’t be dealt with independently or can’t be adequately managed, even with outside help. And that just ends up being really frustrating, for everyone.
One thing that ADHDers need from the non-ADHDers in their lives is support.
We need support to learn those things we don’t know how to do (and to find a method that will work for us, because often the linear structure of non-ADHD functioning just doesn’t work with our brains), and sometimes we need support to be able to do accomplish the things we can’t accommodate in other ways.
That might mean someone to do things with us.
It might mean someone to encourage us and keep us on task while we work.
It might mean someone to help us work out the steps for a big project.
And it might well mean someone to actually do the work for us, because we cannot do it ourselves consistently enough.