What is Executive Dysfunction? Learn 20+ ways it can wreak havoc on your life

Executive dysfunction is a deficiency in the executive system of the prefrontal cortex and it is related to being neurodivergent. Autistic people as well as those with ADHD, depression, OCD, PTSD, addiction, and many other conditions can experience executive dysfunction, but many people suffer from it without ever even having any diagnosis at all. Read on to discover what is executive dysfunction and just a few of the ways it can show up.

What is executive function?

The executive functions are mental processes that develop over the course of childhood into young adulthood. Because they're interconnected and all related to each other, they aren't clearly defined. Here eight executive functions are identified by the Orchid Center for ADHD as the following:

Then what is executive dysfunction?

Executive dysfunction refers to an impairment in some number of the above mental skills. You may be able to use some of the executive functions perfectly normally, but have severe disability in another.

What is executive dysfunction and how does it look?

Since the areas you struggle with will vary person to person, exactly what it looks like, it depends on the specific person's presentation. Here are some ways an impairment in each of the executive functions can show up:

What is executive dysfunction in adults? Infographic on green background with seven heads each relating to an aspect of executive dysfunction. Text reads Chaotic Organized presents ADULT EXECUTIVE DYSFUNCTION (EXD) Do you have any of the signs below?: TROUBLE PLANNING OR BREAKING DOWN TASKS You may not recognize the smaller steps you can take towards achieving your goals. LOW SELF- MOTIVATION You may often procrastinate or forget tasks entirely if they don't have obvious external consequences or rewards. No, you're not lazy! POOR WORKING MEMORY Working memory is how we keep things in our head, if you have exD you may often lose your keys or forget why you walked into a room. DIFFICULTY CONVERSING Working memory extends to verbal concepts too. You may forget your train of thought or struggle to talk with people in real time. LITTLE TIME AWARENESS Are you always running behind? When you're focused on a task does it seem like time stops altogether? EMOTIONAL REACTIVITY Your emotional responses may be extreme or make it hard to reach your goals, or you might not be able to regulate your emotions. LACK OF INHIBITION ExD makes you want instant gratification, so it's hard to say "not now" to something you want - especially when you have strong feelings. *THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE I am not a physician or mental health professional.This post is meant for informational purposes only and is not Diagnostic. If you suspect you may have clinical executive function disorder please consult a doctor for diagnosis or treatment.

1. Working Memory

Working memory is related to short term memory and is the part of your memory that deals with active tasks. Deficits in working memory can look like:

2. Time Management

Time management deals with how we experience the passage of time and how well we control our actions over our time. Those with deficits in time management might experience:

If time management is really a struggle for you, check out my Ultimate Guide to Time Management or sign up for my mailing list and have it sent straight to you, but broken down for you to take action right away!

3. Planning/Prioritizing

Planning and prioritizing allows you to break large projects and goals down and to tell which steps are the most important. Impairments in planning or prioritizing can lead to:

4. Organization

Organization is the executive function that allows you to keep your physical environment organized as well as keep your thoughts and ideas well-cataloged and easy to find. If you are impaired in organization you may have:

5. Initiation

Initiation is the ability to start tasks that you want or need to work on. When this function is impaired, getting started with a task can be difficult no matter how motivated you are to work on the task. Other signs of deficits in initiation may be:

6. Inhibition

Inhibition, on the other hand, is the ability to say no to temptation. The (admittedly flawed) Stanford marshmallow experiments and the many follow up experiments have famously studied this function in children. Signs of impairment in inhibition may be:

7. Mental Flexibility

Mental flexibility is the ability to change tasks unexpectedly and without significant emotional involvement. Here are some signs that your mental flexibility may be impaired:

8. Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is the ability to manage your immediate emotional reactions to a reasonable level and to maintain your long-term emotional health. Some ways emotional dysregulation can show up are:

So what is executive dysfunction for you? How does it show up in your life and what areas are the biggest struggles for you? Join the Discord and let's chat!

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