What’s the Difference Between Executive Function Issues and ADHD?

If your child has an ADHD diagnosis, is being evaluated for ADHD, or even if you’re just doing research on the disorder, you might also hear that they could have executive function problems. This can be confusing! They seem to be two different ways of describing the difficulties your child is having.

Simply put, executive functions are self-regulating skills.

We all use them every day to do things like plan ahead, stay organised, solve problems, and focus on what’s important. These are some of the same things children with ADHD have trouble doing. So is there a difference between executive function issues and ADHD? And if so, what is it?


ADHD is a disorder that’s defined by three broad sets of behaviours or symptoms: inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Children with ADHD have trouble doing things like paying attention, following directions, sitting quietly, and waiting for their turn.

Children are diagnosed with ADHD if they demonstrate these symptoms much more often than other children their age do, and so much so that and it’s causing them real difficulty at school and in their lives.

Executive Functions

Executive functions, on the other hand, are very specific ways that the brain works. This means that things like inattention and impulsivity are divided into more distinct skills that children typically develop during childhood and adolescence.

There are many individual functions, but they fit into these areas:

  • Planning
  • Organising
  • Setting priorities
  • Shifting between situations or thoughts
  • Controlling our emotions and impulsivity
  • Using working memory
  • Monitoring ourselves to keep track of how we’re doing

Many children who have ADHD do struggle with executive function. But it’s also possible for a child to have executive function issues without having ADHD.

How Can This Information Help Your Child?        

Understanding if your child has executive function problems can help you support them more effectively. Seeing these things as specific skills, and figuring out which ones might be a problem for your child, makes it easier to understand why they are struggling and how to help them.

Biolink Attention Training is expert in executive function and has developed a test to measure how well a child can perform specific functions. Those measures allow us to identify where each child needs the most assistance.

Learn more about this test by clicking here.

Lizaan Spangenberg
Biolink Attention Training Head Office