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ADHD, an Executive Function Delay

A female student with ADHD looks over a paper with her male adult teacher.

ADHD Misunderstood - Is it an executive function delay?

ADHD has long been misunderstood and mistreated as a disorder of attention, but we are beginning to recognize that it is truly a performance disorder. This means that individuals with ADHD may struggle to demonstrate what they know in real-world situations and the present moment. As an ADHD and Executive Function Specialist, I have seen firsthand how this misunderstanding has led to inappropriate assessment and treatment of this condition.

What we now understand is that ADHD is really an Executive Function developmental delay. Executive Functions are a set of cognitive processes that allow us to regulate our behavior, control our impulses, and achieve our goals. These functions include working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, and planning and organization. Research has shown that Executive Functions are the greatest predictor of success, and they are essential for living a successful, independent life.

How can we improve our executive functioning?

For far too long, we have viewed Executive Functions as an external behavioral-based disorder, with a heavy focus on organization and time management. But what we now know is that it is the internal skills that are lacking and need to be strengthened. More specifically, the skill of Internal Language needs to be harnessed to strengthen Executive Functions.

Internal Language is the ability to talk to ourselves in our heads, also known as self-talk. It is how we plan, strategize, and problem-solve. This skill is essential for strengthening executive functions because it helps us regulate our behavior and control our impulses. When we talk to ourselves in our heads, we can remind ourselves of our goals, focus our attention, and think before we act. It is like having an internal coach or mentor who can guide us through challenging situations.

By harnessing the power of internal language, we can strengthen executive functions and help individuals with ADHD achieve their full potential. This means moving away from a narrow focus on behavior and organization and instead emphasizing the development of internal cognitive skills. With this approach, individuals with ADHD can learn to better regulate their behavior, control their impulses, and achieve their goals. They can also develop the skills they need to live a successful, independent life.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, we need to start looking at ADHD for what it truly is - an Executive Function developmental delay. By focusing on the development of internal cognitive skills, such as Internal Language, we can help individuals with ADHD strengthen their Executive Functions and achieve their full potential. Executive Functions are the greatest predictor of success and are essential for living a successful, independent life.

Let's work together to help individuals with ADHD unlock their full potential and thrive.

About the Author

Michael McLeod, MA, CCC-SLP TSSLD, is an ASHA-Certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Executive Function-ADHD Specialist.

Michael is the creator of the GrowNOW Model for fostering Executive Functions and Resiliency by strengthening the skill of Internal Language while constructing interpersonal relationships and varied experiences for students.

The evidence-based GrowNOW Model utilizes a holistic approach towards decreasing prompt dependency on adults and strengthening independence – in all areas – academic, social, and home.


Michael is the owner of GrowNOW ADHD, LLC, a specialized private practice in Philadelphia, PA. He partners with many public and private schools to assist them in developing their Executive Functioning programming by training staff and working directly with students and families. GrowNOW treats students virtually across the country and internationally. Michael has presented nationwide and internationally, training families and professionals on his unique GrowNOW Treatment Model for fostering Executive Functions & Resiliency.


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