Children with ADHD struggle with executive functions such as organization and problem-solving. Research suggests that executive dysfunction is not only a consequence of ADHD, but also a potential contributing factor to the development of the disorder.
- Executive dysfunction is a central component of ADHD.
- Children with ADHD show delayed development of executive functioning.
- Network analyses found atypical network correlations between skills necessary for executive function.
Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with executive functions. These include organization, problem-solving, managing impulses, and focusing attention. Even if they have normal scores on executive function tests, they may still struggle with these skills in school and in social interactions.
Executive functions include a broad set of skills, including inhibition, working memory, and shifting. Children with ADHD have shown delayed development of these processes. However, the relationships between these skills and ADHD symptoms are not clear-cut. Network analyses can help clarify the relationship between executive function domains and ADHD symptoms.
The Relationship Between Executive Function Domains and ADHD Symptoms
In a study published in Child Psychiatry & Human Development, researchers performed a network analysis using data from 282 children and adolescents, half of whom had ADHD. Data were acquired from a public domain normative sample of the NIH Toolkit, with results from inhibition, working memory, and shifting-based cognitive assessments.
The researchers analyzed the strength of the relationships between test scores, forming correlational networks for children in each group. In children with ADHD, there was a weaker correlation between inhibition and shifting. In typically developing children, the ability to shift, or flexibly act based on updated rules, is developed over the course of childhood, but children with ADHD appear to have delayed development of this skill.
Implications for Developmental Delays and Future Research
These findings show that executive function networks are characteristically different between children with and without ADHD. Executive functions operate together to allow flexible behavior, but altered network correlations could signify developmental delays. Future studies should include longitudinal analyses and explore interventions.
Karr, J. E., Rodriguez, J. E., Rast, P., Goh, P. K., & Martel, M. M. (2023). A Network Analysis of Executive Functions in Children and Adolescents With and Without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Child Psychiatry and Human Development. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-023-01518-9