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The Seven Executive Functions

Executive function refers to the cognitive or mental abilities that people need to actively pursue goals. In other words, it’s about how we break down areas of challenge associated with:

· planning complex tasks

· organizing time and space

· self-regulating

Let’s understand the seven core skills on which we can judge the strength of the executive functions…

  1. Self-awareness - Self-directed attention

  2. Inhibition - Self-control or restraint

  3. Non-verbal working memory - The ability to hold visual imagery in your mind.

  4. Verbal working memory - Your inner monologue or internal speech.

  5. Emotional self-regulation - The ability to use words, images, and your own self-awareness to process and alter how we feel about things.

  6. Self-motivation - When there is no external consequence how motivated are you to complete a task?

  7. Planning and problem solving - Deciding on a goal and a plan to meet that goal.

Do these challenges sound familiar? Someone who exhibits the classic symptoms of Executive Function challenges with or without an ADHD diagnosis, will have difficulty with all or some of these seven skill sets. For a few examples, problems with emotional regulation may lead to inappropriate outbursts and problems with inhibition in someone can lead to impulsive actions.

These seven skills develop over time and generally in order. Self-awareness starts to develop around age 2 and these skills continue to develop until about age 30! In a neurotypical person, planning and problem solving should be fully developed by age 30.

At any age, with proper accommodations and treatment, people with executive function challenges and ADHD can learn to use what they know and strengthen these executive functions over time.

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