Executive functions are cognitive processes in charge of planning, problem-solving, attention, and self-regulation.
Executive functions are essential, they help us make plans, stay organized, pay attention, and keep our emotions in check. It plays a big role in making decisions and adapting to new situations.
Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that is closely linked to executive functioning. Dopamine helps to regulate attention, motivation, and reward-based learning, which are all essential components of executive functioning.
Why does executive dysfunction happen?
Executive dysfunction can happen when these processes have some impairment.
Executive dysfunction can manifest temporarily for many reasons, like burnout, depression, grief, and post-viral syndrome, like Long Covid. But for many neurodivergent conditions, especially Autism and ADHD, it is present constantly.
What does executive dysfunction look like?
- Procrastination, doing everything but the thing
- Laziness, not moving, just sitting around, playing with their phone
- Carelessness, as if it’s not important, and the person is not interested in doing the thing
- Running around in a frenzy, agitated, irritated, snappy
- Forgetfulness, not remembering things that were said to them, constantly losing their things
- They are distracted, start talking about different topics mid-sentence, and interrupt what they are doing with something different
What does executive dysfunction feel like?
- You’re overwhelmed by the amount of tasks to do, and not knowing the next step, so you can’t even start doing anything
- Feeling a sense of urgency, trying to catch up with things, feeling like you’re constantly behind
- Starting many tasks at the same time (often not the ones you should / want to do), nothing is finished
- Not being able to progress with your tasks and still feeling exhausted from trying
- Trying to concentrate and focus, but being distracted all the time, and hating yourself for it
Executive dysfunction and ADHD
Executive dysfunction is one of the most important traits of ADHD1, because it affects so many areas of daily life. But is also one of the most prejudiced against.
It is very easy to regard executive dysfunction struggles as laziness or carelessness, and make a moral judgement on a person for struggling.
A person with executive dysfunction can easily believe they are just not trying hard enough, they are a moral failure and having this kind of internalized shame can very easily lead to confidence issues and negative self-talk.
And when you believe it is your personal failing that you are not feeling well, it is harder to ask for help, especially from people who question your needs in the first place.