Updated: Jun 20
Nicely asking for an Oreo (instead of grabbing it), or turning off The Simpsons, and heading to bed on time are not just wise decisions. They are actually hot executive functions. Here’s how that decision-making process differs in an ADHD brain.
While most teens struggle with wise decisions making, teens with ADHD are up against an additional force. Dysregulated emotional executive functioning.
Hot executive functioning defined
Hot executive decision-making involves resisting gratification. For example, “I really want to play Minecraft now, NOT at 5 P.M. when my dad says I’m allowed.” Or “I want to keep eating these Skittles, Twinkies, or Pringles. Who gives a thought about feeling gross later.” ADHD teens have an additional struggle resisting emotional temptation and seeing the greater consequence of their actions.
The flip side of this, however, is that teens with ADHD are heavily emotion based and therefore respond increasingly well to motivational rewards. “If I do my math homework, my dad lets me watch Wednesday, so I’m going to do it.”
The ADHD science behind it.
The part of the brain responsible for making these reward-based decisions is the prefrontal cortex. It is the last part of the brain to develop. The average person’s prefrontal cortex completes development at around age 25. The average ADHD brain completes development up to 25% later. An ADHD brain truly does function differently!
The 4 hot executive functions
Teens and children with impaired hot executive functioning face added difficulty in the following four areas:
Impulsivity - a tendency to act without thinking. In younger kids, it often translates into grabbing toys or interrupting sentences. In teens with ADHD, think of the above skateboard incident, reckless driving, or lying to cover up an undesired behavior.
Task switching - switching between tasks, shifting, or cognitive flexibility. In younger kids, it can be a temper tantrum when an unforeseen errand or schedule change occurs. In older kids, this often appears as difficulty managing time or prioritizing responsibilities.
Emotional dysregulation - a struggle with frustration, anger, social outbursts, and impulsive behavior. In younger kids with ADHD, you might see hitting, biting, and name-calling. In older kids, sheer defiance, cursing, and major outbursts.
Recruiting effort - overcoming procrastination and initiating tasks. In younger kids with ADHD, this may look like extreme difficulty getting dressed in the morning or preparing their schoolbag. In older kids, it may look like added difficulty cleaning their room, setting the table as asked, or tackling college applications.
Help! What's a parent to do?
Understanding that your teen has ADHD and that their hot emotional functioning works differently is a crucial step in the process. Not every parent is aware of the neurocognitive difficulty, so well done on that front.
The next step is patience. You can’t change your child's brain functioning. You can, however, teach. That's what we at Pery are here for. To help join you on the journey with your child as you learn how to accommodate for disrupted executive functioning and patiently cheer you both on as your child acquires these new critical life skills. Don't miss out on our invaluable tips and tricks for mastering cold executive functions. Level up your skills and help you child conquer tasks like a pro. Check it out now!
Hot executive emotions are behind the decisions we make when dealing with motivation or reward.
Brain development in children with ADHD is different, often leading to difficulty dealing with hot or intense emotions.
As a parent, you can help your child succeed by understanding the added difficulties and creating an ADHD-friendly environment in accordance.