Executive Functioning Deficit Disorder: The Real ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a well-known and widely diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder affecting millions of children and adults worldwide. Many think that ADHD is mostly a problem of attention and focus. ADHD certainly can impact these areas of our lives. However, researchers discovered that ADHD adults struggle with far more than just attention. The real problem with ADHD is executive functioning, which is just a fancy term for “getting things done.”

Executive functioning includes difficulties with planning, organizing, and completing tasks, as well as behavioral and working memory problems.

Scientists like Russell Barkley PhD noticed that executive functioning was impacted significantly in adults with ADHD. So much so that he wanted to change the name from ADHD to EFDD or Executive Functioning Deficit Disorder (EFDD).

What are Executive Functioning deficits?

Executive dysfunction refers to difficulties in a person’s ability to plan, organize, and complete tasks. It also involves problems with working memory and behavioral inhibition. These difficulties can significantly impact a person’s daily life.

While the term “executive functioning deficit disorder” may not have gained mainstream recognition, executive dysfunction is still relevant to understanding ADHD.

Task imitation is hard for people with executive dysfunction and adhd. Image shows a green walk sign in the city to represent starting tasks.

Task Initiation

One of the hallmark symptoms of executive functioning deficits is difficulty with task initiation.

This means that people with executive functioning issues may have a hard time starting a task, even if they know what needs to be done. They may procrastinate, become easily distracted, or feel overwhelmed by the thought of starting a task.

This can lead to a cycle of avoidance and frustration, as they may struggle to complete tasks and meet deadlines.

Behavioral Inhibition

Another key aspect of executive dysfunction and ADHD is difficulty with behavioral inhibition, or impulsivity.

This is the ability to control impulsive behaviors and think before acting. Individuals with EFDD or ADHD may struggle with impulsivity. This can manifest as interrupting others, blurting out answers, or engaging in risky behaviors.

This can negatively impact relationships, as they may struggle to control their emotions and reactions in social situations.

Working Memory

Working memory is the ability to hold and manipulate information in the mind for a short period. People with executive dysfunction and ADHD have difficulty with working memory, making it hard to follow multi-step instructions, remember important details, and focus on a task.

This may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, executive functioning coaching, and accommodations in academic or work settings.

How to Improve Executive Functioning and ADHD

Therapy for ADHD

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can help anyone with executive functioning deficits or ADHD, as it helps them identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts. With CBT, they can also develop more effective coping strategies.

ADHD Medication

While there’s no specific medication for executive functioning challenges, some individuals may benefit from medication to manage symptoms like impulsivity or inattention. It’s important to work with a healthcare professional to determine if medication is appropriate and to monitor its effectiveness.

Accommodations in Academic or Work Settings

Adults and kids with executive functioning challenges may benefit from accommodations in academic or work settings to help them manage their symptoms. This may include extra time on tests, written instructions, or a quiet workspace.


A person with EFDD and ADHD looks through a fishbowl

While Executive Functioning Deficit Disorder may not be the official name, executive functioning is a real struggle for many kids and adults with ADHD. By understanding the symptoms and challenges associated with executive dysfunction, we can improve diagnosis and treatment. Overall, this could lead to better outcomes and improved quality of life for those affected by executive functioning deficits.