Understanding Executive Function and ADHD

Understanding Executive Function and ADHD

This post is part of a series that highlights themes and takeaways from ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference: Executive Function & Social-Emotional Learning: Promoting Resilience, Stress Management, and Academic Success. 

ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference provided a space for important discussions about using executive function strategies to reduce stress and promote social-emotional learning. One subject that was discussed by multiple speakers was ADHD — how it relates to executive function and how to understand it through a strength-based approach.

Smart but Stuck 

On day one of the conference, Dr. Thomas E. Brown↗(link opens in new tab/window) shared insights into ADHD and how executive function impairments affect the ability of people with ADHD to do certain activities. Dr. Brown is a clinical professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California, Riverside and was a past clinical faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.

Drawing from his years working with and talking to people who have ADHD, Dr. Brown emphasized that every single person with ADHD has activities that they are able to focus on as well as other activities on which they aren’t able to focus at all.

Dr. Brown also stressed the role that emotions play in ADHD. Each person has different emotions that they are particularly vulnerable to. He compared emotions to chocolate chip cookies – they are often blended, layered, or mixed. Context is important, whether it is where you are or who you are with. Sometimes emotions take up too much space, and such intensity can lead to a reduction in sensitivity to other information.

How to Win Races with a Runaway Brain

On the second day of the conference, Dr. Edward Hallowell↗(link opens in new tab/window) pushed for a new way of thinking and talking about ADHD. “Depending on how you manage it, it can be either an asset or a liability in your life… it can also make your life.”

As the founder of the Hallowell ADHD Centers and past faculty member of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Hallowell has 40+ years of clinical experience working with people with ADHD. He stressed the importance of connection in learning. The beauty of connection is that it is fun, free, and in infinite supply.

Through his talk, Dr. Hallowell shared ways that parents of students with ADHD can help their children. For example, people with ADHD crave stimulation and cannot tolerate boredom because contentment is too bland. Dr. Hallowell thus encourages students to find a creative outlet. For him, it was writing. Through his lived experiences as someone who grew up with ADHD and has family members who have ADHD, Dr. Hallowell emphasized that anyone with ADHD can live a fulfilling life; it is all about the perspective and how you approach it.

  • Andrea Foo, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org