It’s not ADD – it’s Executive Function Disorder
By Tanya A. Alvarado, Esquire
At one time or another, we have come across a child who has trouble completing tasks, frequently hands in homework late, has trouble completing long-term assignments, seems to wait until the very last minute to complete an assignment, lacks attention and focus, makes careless math errors, misplaces their papers or materials needed for school, has trouble keeping their bedroom organized, gets stuck on one way of completing a task – even if it is unsuccessful – cannot keeping track of their personal items, cannot curb inappropriate comments or stop their own behavior, or has trouble coping with frustration. A parent may believe their child has Attention Deficit Disorder (“ADD”), only to be told that the child has some, but not enough characteristics to render this diagnosis. Your child may have Executive Function Disorder (“EFD”), for which he or she can still qualify for special education services through their school district.
Executive function is a complex array of processes that allows your brain to perform various tasks that children not diagnosed with EFD do seemingly naturally. These processes include:
planning/organization: completing long-term tasks or tasks with multiple steps, set long term goals, sequencing
inhibition: stopping your impulses, including socially inappropriate behavior
shifting: freely moving from one activity to another, transitioning, or having flexibility with problem-solving
working memory: holding information in your mind for the purpose of completing a task
organization of materials: ability to organize your papers or possession and locate them at a later time
monitor: check your work and assess your performance
emotional control: modulate emotional responses appropriately
initiation: begin an activity or generate ideas
In school, EFD can affect your child’s performance in reading fluency, writing, or math, leading to an identification of a learning disability. It can also affect how your child completes projects, memorizes information, retells stories, retains information while doing something with it (like remembering a phone number while dialing), or how he/she motivates his/herself to begin a task – especially in subjects he/she finds difficult or “boring”. A school district may exclusively determine that your child has ADD or a learning disability, rather than explore whether EFD is a cause of your child’s difficulty. Although EFD can co-exist with other diagnoses, it is important to identify the cause or causes of your child’s learning differences. School districts and/or independent educational evaluators can assess whether a child has executive functioning needs. In doing so, school districts and families can properly identify the appropriate special education instruction and program modifications that are necessary to help your child reach educational success.