Understanding Executive Functioning is crucial for both educators and parents seeking to support students, particularly those with ADHD. This comprehensive guide delves into various tools and assessments that can help identify executive function challenges, from well-known rating inventories like BRIEF and CAARS to free online questionnaires. Beyond assessment, the article also explores the link between executive functioning skills and emotions, offers insights into common challenges like distractibility and time blindness, and provides actionable tips for improvement. Whether you are an adult struggling with executive function or looking to support a student, this guide aims to equip you with the knowledge you need.

A person with ADHD is filling out a form using a pen.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects children, adolescents, and adults. One of the core symptoms of ADHD is executive functioning deficits, which can impact an individual’s ability to plan, organizational skills, prioritize, initiate tasks, sustain attention, and regulate emotions. These deficits can have a significant impact on academic, social, and occupational functioning.

Assessing EF deficits in students with ADHD is crucial for effective diagnosis and treatment planning. As a first course of action, this helps a student and any support providers see which skills are lagging, and which ones are strengths, giving a roadmap to understanding the path to improved academic success. One way to assess executive functions is through the use of a executive functioning checklist/questionnaire.

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Executive Function Questionnaires

Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF):

The BRIEF is a widely used questionnaire that assesses executive functions in children and young adults aged 5-18 years. The BRIEF consists of 86 items that evaluate various domains of EF skills, including inhibition, shifting, emotional control, initiation, working memory, planning/organization, and monitoring. It can be completed by parents, teachers, and the individual being assessed. The BRIEF provides a comprehensive assessment of executive functions and can assist in developing targeted interventions to address deficits.

Conners’ Adult ADHD Rating Scales (CAARS):

A person with ADHD answering CAARS questionaire.

The CAARS is a self-report questionnaire that assesses ADHD symptoms in adults aged 18 years and above. The CAARS consists of 66 items that evaluate various domains of ADHD, including a executive functioning disorder checklist, inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The executive functioning skills checklist/subscale of the CAARS assesses deficits in planning, organizational skills, time management, working memory, and self-regulation. The CAARS can be used to diagnose ADHD in adults and monitor treatment progress.

Brown Attention-Deficit Disorder Scales(BADDS):

The BADDS is a self-report questionnaire that assesses ADHD symptoms in adults aged 18 years and above. The BADDS consists of 40 items that evaluate various domains of ADHD, including deficits in executive functioning skills, attentional deficits, and memory problems. The EF skills subscale of the BADDS assesses deficits in organization, time management, planning, task initiation, and problem-solving. The BADDS can be used to diagnose ADHD in adults and monitor treatment progress.

Barkley Deficits in Executive Functioning Scale (BDEFS):

The BDEFS is a self-report questionnaire that assesses deficits in executive functioning skills in adults aged 18 years and above. The BDEFS consists of 75 items that evaluate various domains of executive functioning skills, including working memory, task initiation, self-regulation, emotional control, planning/organization, and metacognition. The BDEFS provides a comprehensive assessment of executive functioning skills and can assist in developing targeted interventions to address executive functioning issues.

Assessing executive functioning issues through the use of questionnaires can assist in effective diagnosis and treatment planning. The BRIEF, CAARS, BADDS, and BDEFS are some of the best executive functioning checklist/questionnaires for students and young adults with ADHD. It is essential to work with a mental health professional to select the appropriate questionnaire and interpret the results accurately. These results then lay the foundation to implementing the right supports and services for a student who wants to improve their academic standing.

If, however, a questionnaire isn’t in the budget or if a professional evaluation is pending, and you want a less formal glimpse of the students’ EF strengths and weaknesses, there are free options that can be used. These may be less accurate, as they are not done with a professional, but can give a good indication of EF functioning until a more formal assessment can be acquired.

Free Online Executive Functioning Questionnaire’s

A person answering executive functioning survey.

Executive Functioning Index (EFI):

The EFI is a 25-item self-report questionnaire that assesses executive functioning in adults. It evaluates various domains of executive functions, including working memory, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, planning, organization, and self-regulation. The EFI is available for free on the website of the ADHD Resource Center.

The Amsterdam Executive Functioning Inventory (AEFI):

The AEFI is a 64-item self-report questionnaire that assesses executive functioning in adults. It evaluates various domains of executive functions, including planning, organizing, working memory, attention, and self-monitoring. The AEFI is available for free on the website of the Amsterdam University Medical Center.

The Cognitive Assessment System (CAS) Self-Report Form:

The CAS is a comprehensive assessment of cognitive functioning that includes a self-report form that assesses various functioning areas and skills. The self-report form includes 32 items that evaluate various domains of functioning skills, including planning, attention, simultaneous processing, and successive processing. The CAS Self-Report Form is available for free on the website of the Riverside Publishing Company.

The Cambridge Brain Sciences Executive Functioning Test Battery:

The Cambridge Brain Sciences Executive Functioning Test Battery is a series of online tests that assess various domains of function, including working memory, inhibition, planning, and cognitive flexibility. The tests are designed for adults and are available for free on the Cambridge Brain Sciences website.

It’s important to note that while these questionnaires are available for free online, they should be used in conjunction with a comprehensive assessment by a mental health professional to ensure accurate diagnosis and treatment planning.

How to Use the Executive Functioning Checklist:

a creative illustration of Executive Functioning Checklist

When using executive functioning questionnaires, it is important to follow some guidelines to ensure accurate and meaningful results. Here are some steps to effectively use the executive functioning checklist:

a) Selecting the Appropriate Questionnaire: Depending on the age and specific needs of the individual being assessed, find suitable executive functioning checklists and questionnaires. The BRIEF, CAARS, BADDS, and BDEFS are excellent options for students and young adults.

b) Involve Multiple Perspectives: Encourage input from parents, your child’s teacher, and the individual themselves to gather a comprehensive view of their executive dysfunction.

c) Analyze the Results: After completing the questionnaire, carefully analyze the responses to identify specific areas of executive dysfunction

d) Seek Professional Guidance: The results of the questionnaire should be interpreted by a mental health professional with expertise in ADHD and executive functioning difficulties

Adult Executive Function Disorder:

After choosing an EF questionnaire and using it correctly, many questions often arise about how these deficits affect adults, particularly students. EF deficits in adults can manifest in various ways, such as forgetfulness, difficulty planning, difficulty getting started on homework, trouble meeting deadlines, and overall disorganization. Often people will refer to their own difficulties by identifying the results of the challenges they face, as noted above. Each of these results stem from an EF delay including emotional regulation delay, time management challenges (sometimes referred to as time blindness), difficulty with focus (otherwise known as easily distractible), etc. Identifying these symptoms and their roots, can aid in seeking appropriate interventions and support.

Executive Functioning Skills and Emotions:

Emotional regulation is considered an executive function skill, and is often lagging in students with ADHD who have years of perceived failures and disappointments that directly impact their ability to emotionally regulate. Often this can come in the form of test anxiety, resistance to starting homework they deem as “challenging”, or a seeming indifference about their grades.

These emotional responses are all rooted in their perceptions of what is possible for them based on past experiences. As a student learns about EF skills, and is supported in developing those skills, these emotional challenges can improve over time.

It is also important to note that students with ADHD often struggle with emotional control, leading to impulsive reactions and difficulty managing frustration. Addressing emotional regulation, as a while, alongside executive functioning deficits can enhance overall functioning and well-being.

Students and Distractibility:

a person showcasing an executive function skill

Distractibility is a common challenge for students with executive functioning deficits. They may have difficulty staying focused on simple things like taking notes during class, focusing on their assigned reading, or completing lengthy assignments. All of this can lead to decreased productivity and increased frustration, as mentioned earlier.

This stems from the differences in an ADHD brain compared to a neurotypical brain. ADHD involves difficulties in regulating attention and inhibiting impulsive behaviors. In the college environment, students are often faced with numerous distractions, such as social interactions, electronic devices, and the bustling campus atmosphere. For students with ADHD, these distractions can become overwhelming and disrupt their ability to concentrate on studying, attending lectures, or completing assignments. Additionally, the demands of college life, including managing multiple classes, deadlines, and extracurricular activities, can exacerbate the challenges of distractibility for individuals with ADHD. As a result, college students with ADHD may struggle to stay on track academically and may experience difficulties in achieving their full potential in their studies. Proper support, accommodations, and strategies tailored to their specific needs are essential to help them navigate the college experience more effectively.

An accurate look at a persons executive function skills and strengths can help pave a pathway to less distractibility. Implementing systems or supports such as fidgets, note taking accommodations, timed breaks during lengthy assignments, and text to speech applications for reading assignments can help improve focus. Understanding this aspect can help tailor strategies to improve attention and the ability to complete tasks.

Time Blindness Explained

a person with ADHD struggling to manage his time.

Time blindness can significantly impact a college student with ADHD, making it challenging for them to manage their academic responsibilities effectively. Time blindness is a common symptom of ADHD that involves difficulties in perceiving and accurately estimating the passage of time. For a college student with this condition, staying organized and adhering to deadlines can become a constant struggle. They might have difficulty planning their study sessions, often underestimating the time required to complete assignments or study for exams. As a result, they may frequently find themselves rushing to complete tasks at the last minute, leading to subpar performance and added stress.

Moreover, time blindness can affect a student’s ability to prioritize tasks appropriately. They might have difficulty distinguishing between urgent and less critical tasks, leading to a lack of time management and a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. This can result in a vicious cycle of procrastination, where they postpone important assignments until the pressure becomes unbearable. Additionally, time blindness can affect their social life, as they may struggle to arrive on time for appointments, meetings, or extracurricular activities, potentially leading to feelings of isolation and frustration. Overall, time blindness can significantly hinder a college student with ADHD from reaching their full academic potential and enjoying a well-balanced college experience.

Can Executive Function Be Improved in Adults?

The good news is that these skills can be improved in adults through targeted interventions, lifestyle adjustments, and therapy. While executive dysfunction may not entirely disappear, individuals can develop coping strategies and skills to manage their challenges effectively.

Tips for Adult Executive Functioning:

  • Working Memory: Practice memory-enhancing exercises and techniques to improve recall and cognitive flexibility.
  • Set Time Limits: Use timers and alarms to structure tasks and maintain focus within specific time frames.
  • Explore Different Ways of Learning: Adopt diverse learning methods to accommodate individual learning styles and strengthen executive functions such as multi step directions.
  • Use Visual Aids: Utilize visual cues and reminders to improve organization and task completion.
  • Seek Professional Help: Consult with mental health professionals to receive personalized strategies and support.
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Detecting Poor Executive Functioning: Signs to Look Out For:

Detecting poor executive functioning can be crucial in identifying potential challenges and seeking appropriate assistance. Signs to watch for include:

  • Chronic disorganization and forgetfulness
  • Difficulty managing time and completing household tasks or school assignments
  • Impulsive behavior and emotional dysregulation
  • Struggles with planning and prioritization

Assessing executive function deficits in students and young adults with ADHD is vital for effective diagnosis and treatment. Executive function questionnaires like BRIEF, CAARS, BADDS, and BDEFS are powerful tools that provide valuable insights into specific areas of difficulty. Additionally, utilizing free online questionnaires like EFI, AEFI, CAS Self-Report Form, and Cambridge Brain Sciences Test Battery can further aid in assessment.

Enhancing executive function skills can significantly improve academic, social, and occupational functioning. Through targeted interventions, support, and collaboration with mental health professionals, individuals with ADHD can lead fulfilling lives despite executive function challenges. By recognizing the signs of executive function deficits and adopting appropriate strategies, we can help individuals reach their full potential and thrive.