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Executive Functions & ADHD

The executive functions are like the management system of the brain and include such things as self control, working memory, planning and organising.

It’s role is like the conductor in an orchestra. The conductor, keeps the timing, tells each musician when and how to play, having some rise loud, others to stop.

Although each member of the orchestra is highly skilled, without the guidance of the conductor they are not able to work together to create beautiful and complex symphonies.

There are 3 core executive functions

Inhibitory Control – the ability to control our attention, behaviour, thoughts and emotions.

Working Memory – the ability to holding information in your mind and work with it. This includes verbal and non-verbal working memory.

Cognitive Flexibility – the ability to be flexible enough to adjust to changed demand or priorities.

No one is born with executive functioning skills, they develop over time as the brain develops.

This is why teenagers are still prone to make impulsive and ill-planned choices…

THE BRAIN DOES NOT MATURE UNTIL THE AGE OF 26

When we look at the list of executive functions we can quite easily see the symptoms of ADHD and the areas that are often challenging.

The executive functions communicate with neurotransmitters

Dopamine is one of the primary neurotransmitters that the executive functions need to operate.

The chemical messenger is released into the synapse and received by the receptors.  Any unused neurotransmitters are then taken up by the reuptake transporter to be used by the brain at another time.

It was initially thought that ADHD was caused by low-level dopamine. However, further studies have shown that the ADHD brain has an excessively efficient dopamine removal system.  

ADHD BRAIN HAS A HIGHER CONCENTRATION OF DOPAMINE TRANSPORTERS – REUPTAKE INHIBITORS.

This is why stimulant medication is the first line treatment for ADHD. The medication slows down the reuptake transporters and allows the neurotransmitters to remain in the synapse longer.

The neurotransmitters then have a greater chance of being received by the receptor.

There are also other neurotransmitters involved with ADHD. Noradrenaline and Serotonin are often at a lower than optimal levels.
Non-stimulant medication targets Noradrenaline.
SSRi slow the reuptake of Serotonin
SNRi slow the reuptake of Serotonin and Noradrenaline

So in summary when thinking about ADHD we are essentially talking about weak  executive function.

 In children there is about a 30% lag in development of executive functions (2-3 years)

So an 8 year old executive functions are running at about a 5 year old level. For parents, it can be beneficial to consider this when thinking about the expectations they have for their child.   With the parents I have worked with as a Parent Coach, this understanding has been helpful. It can allow them to recognise they may need to provide more scaffolding or support. It also helps to ‘normalise’ their child’s development. This can then ease frustration and concern when their child is not able to complete tasks that others of their age seem to manage.

The Adult ADHD Brain may only get to 70-80% executive function capacity.

Contrary to some outdated and uneducated beliefs, ADHD is a lifelong neurological condition. Many factors can impact the level of functionality achieved by brain at maturity including the severity the of ADHD itself.

ADHD presents differently in each person and therefore the executive functions are also impacted in different ways and at different levels.

Stress and poor sleep greatly impacts the executive functions, this is the case for all brains. It has a more profound impact on those with ADHD that already have challenges in this area.  External life pressures, health, comorbid conditions and general support all play a factor in how ADHD impacts the adult with ADHD.

While I noted that medication is the first-line treatment for ADHD a holistic approach is also needed. Understanding ADHD and how it presents for the individual is imperative for then putting in place systems, strategies, routines and support. Reducing the body’s stress both externally and internally is a priority including good sleep hygiene and in many cases sleep support medication.

As a ADHD Coach my role is to work with clients to work with their executive function challenges. ADHD is the explanation then the next step is to work out systems and strategies to move forward.

Hi, my name is Rachel Daldry (ACC, CACP, DipCouns), ADHD Coach and Counsellor

I am passionate about assisting people to work with their brain and create the life THEY want to live. My ADHD journey began six years ago when my daughter was diagnosed, which set me on a path of researching ADHD, the brain, and positive psychology.

My work began with supporting overwhelmed parents, a situation I was all too familiar with, and this is when the spark was lit inside me that I could help others not feel like they were failing. It’s a dark place that no one should get stuck in.

That spark became a fire when I began coaching and focusing on working with people impacted by ADHD. Working with another person to help them find their flow, work through their challenges, find their purpose, and feel like they are progressing is a gift.

I am an International Coaching Federation (ICF) credentialed coach and Professional Association of ADHD Coaches (PAAC) credentialed ADHD Coach. In addition to this I have completed the ADHD Clinical Provider course, which included trainings from world-renowned ADHD experts such as Dr. Russell Barkley, Dr. Ari Tuckman, Dr. Saline Sharon, and Dr. Ned Hallowell.

I am a Licensed Counsellor and have a special interest in working with couples. I have completed Gottman Couples Therapy Clinical Training -  Level 2.

In addition to this, I am a Certified Positive Discipline Parent educator and have completed an additional accreditation with Dr Jane Nelson ‘Keeping the Joy in Relationships”.​

I welcome the opportunity to work with Adults who have ADHD or their family members.

Here’s what a client had to say…

I found working with Rachel to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and felt her approach as a collaborative supporter put me at ease. Rachel is professional without feeling clinical or sanitised, and holds space for emotional connection when appropriate. She does not spoon-feed you all the answers, rather encourages you to explore what you think will work for you and ask why to deepen your understanding of yourself. I have learnt valuable lessons I will be taking with me into the future and am very thankful to Rachel for offering her services.