Executive Function Disorder

What Does Executive Function Disorder Look Like in Adults?

People with executive function disorder (EFD) often experience time blindness, or an inability to plan for and keep in mind future events. If those symptoms sound familiar, keep reading.

A woman sits at her computer and plans how to get things done
A woman sits at her computer and plans how to get things done

These seven executive function skills are critical in managing everyday life and long-term goals:

  1. Self-awareness: Simply put, this is self-directed attention
  2. Inhibition: Also known as self-restraint
  3. Non-Verbal Working Memory: The ability to hold things in your mind. Essentially, visual imagery — how well you can picture things mentally
  4. Verbal Working Memory: Self-speech, or internal speech that people think of this as their “inner monologue”
  5. Emotional Self-Regulation: The ability to take the previous four executive functions and use them to manipulate your own emotional state. This means learning to use words, images, and your own self-awareness to process and alter how we feel about things
  6. Self-Motivation: How well you can motivate yourself to complete a task when there is no immediate external consequence
  7. Planning and Problem Solving: Experts sometimes like to think of this as “self-play” — how we play with information in our minds to come up with new ways of doing something. By taking things apart and recombining them in different ways, we’re planning solutions to our problems

When a person’s executive functions fail, he has trouble analyzing, planning, organizing, scheduling, and completing tasks. People with EFD commonly lack the ability to handle frustration, start and finish tasks, recall and follow multi-step directions, stay on track, self monitor, and balance priorities. Fixing the area of deficit is key to fixing academic or occupational difficulties. Common signs and symptoms of EFD in adults include:

  • Forgetting to complete tasks
  • Inability to keep track of personal items like keys and cell phones
  • Trouble following conversations
  • Losing train of thought
  • Difficulty remembering steps in a multi-step processes
  • Inability to remember names
  • Often late
  • Problems breaking big projects into steps
  • Trouble meeting deadlines
  • Unable to multitask
  • Difficulty remembering abbreviations and acronyms

Identifying symptoms can help adults set up external supports to supplement areas where they struggle.

Symptoms at Home

These, and other common manifestations of EFD may be apparent at home:

  • You have something you want to ask your friend, but she is on the phone and you must wait a few minutes before asking. By the time she is finished, you completely forget what you wanted to ask.
  • When you are talking with a friend, you find it difficult to follow the conversation, forgetting what your friend said just moments before.
  • When you are completing a task with several steps, such as getting the trash, taking it outside, and then putting a new bag in the trash can, you usually forget the last step.
  • When you read something, you usually end up going back to re-read the prior section because you can’t remember it.
  • You constantly misplace your cell phone. You feel like you waste time every day looking for your phone and other misplaced items like keys or glasses.
  • You have difficulty finding a work-life balance. When you try to take on personal activities, it’s hard to figure out how much time to spend on what.

Symptoms at Work

These or similar manifestations of EFD may be apparent at work:

  • In the morning, you rush around to get ready for work but still often end up being late.
  • You plan to complete some work at home and pack up the items you need at the end of your work day. When you sit down to do the work, you realize that you forgot to bring home several critical items.
  • You are often accused of not listening because you don’t follow through on tasks you are asked to do.
  • You have a hard time remembering your co-worker’s names, even if you have met them multiple times.
  • You have a hard time managing large projects. Even when you break them down into steps, you find you miss pieces or end up spending too much time on tasks that don’t have much importance.
  • Even when you have a deadline, it’s hard to just sit down and get started on your assignments.
  • Co-workers would describe you as ‘easily frustrated.’

If you experience these or similar symptoms of EFD, consult a doctor or mental-health professional for a formal assessment.

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