ADHD is defined as “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity that interferes with functioning or development” (American Psychiatric Association, 2014). ADHD can present as one or both types: inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive. People with inattentive ADHD often have difficulty with paying attention to detail, making careless mistakes, and sustaining attention for long periods of time. Inattentive ADHD can also make it difficult for people to follow through with instructions, finish tasks, and stay organized. People with hyperactive/impulsive ADHD can often be seen fidgeting, talking excessively, or struggling to wait their turn. Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD can make it uncomfortable for people to be still for long periods of time.
ADHD is one of the most common diagnoses for kids in the US. An estimated 11% of students struggle with ADHD, and around 87% of those have an additional diagnosis like a learning disability, anxiety, or depression (Saline, 2019). Not only can ADHD impact a kid’s school performance, it can also cause challenges with self-esteem and maintaining friendships.
ADHD affects a person’s executive functioning skills. Skills like emotion regulation, impulse control, time management, and flexibility may not come as naturally to the ADHD brain. That’s why initiating homework, sitting through class, or transitioning from one task to another can be difficult. Other executive functioning skills that may be impacted are planning, prioritizing, or working memory. It is important to note that ADHD is a performance-based deficit (Saline, 2019). It does not reflect a person’s intelligence or motivation; the ADHD brain simply makes it difficult for people to access and apply information effectively.
There are many executive functioning skills that may be impacted by ADHD. It’s important to assess which skills your child is struggling with so that they can be more fully explored. There are several assessment tools online that can help in identifying which skills are lagging the most. It’s also important to collaborate with your child’s teacher or counselor so you’re all on the same page. There are accommodations and supports that can be put into place at school like extra time on tests, visual aides, and dynamic seating.
Using a collaborative approach to understand why a task is difficult for your child will make it easier to problem solve. If homework is a big issue for them, try to learn what specifically is the challenge. Initiating homework? Incentivize getting started. Give them a special snack or let them earn screen time if they can get started without putting up a fight. Or maybe they have too many things to do and they don’t know how to get it all done. Sit down with them and write out a schedule. Decide what to prioritize, how long to spend on each topic, and set up the environment to their preference (lighting, seating, etc.).
Or do they struggle with sitting still for a long time? Break it up. Do work for 15 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. Or, do work for 5 minutes, and take a 20 minute break. Whatever they can do – start there. Try to establish what will be done during a break too. Maybe playing a video game is not the best break, and instead they should go for a walk or listen to music.
The goal with teaching executive functioning skills is to build supports around your child until they don’t need them anymore (Saline, 2019). This process can take a long time, and it’s easy to get frustrated. Try to model patience and understanding to your child. Remember to praise every sign of progress along the way. Kids with ADHD often internalize feelings of shame for not being at the same level as same-aged peers. Individual therapy can be a great place to process these feelings while practicing executive functioning skills. Medication can be a helpful addition to treatment for some kids – talk it through with your child’s pediatrician, psychiatrist, or therapist.
American Psychiatric Association. (2014). The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.
Saline, S. (2019). Adhd in Children and Adolescents. Lecture.