The Differences Between ADHD Paralysis and Executive Dysfunction


Does your child with ADHD feel stuck or overwhelmed trying to complete everyday tasks? Do they struggle to even begin a chore or start their homework? It may not just be laziness that’s got your kid in a slump. Children with ADHD often struggle with motivation and completing tasks due to dopamine deficiency.

ADHD paralysis and Executive Dysfunction can both negatively affect your child’s ability to start and complete important tasks. However, to know how best to address this issue, you have to understand the difference between them. Let’s take a look at the variations between ADHD paralysis and Executive Dysfunction to see where they differ and how you can address them effectively.


What is Executive Dysfunction?

Executive Function skills are life management skills that everyone needs in order to be effective in a number of areas, such as planning, initiating, and achieving goals at home, school or in the workplace. When a person struggles with these types of tasks on a regular basis, they may be experiencing Executive Dysfunction. While most people with ADHD struggle with Executive Dysfunction, some people who deal with Executive Dysfunction don’t have ADHD. 

If your child is dealing with Executive Dysfunction, they may deal with poor grades, low self-esteem, increased stress, strained relationships, and mental and physical health problems. This can show up in behaviors such as:

  • Procrastination
  • Disorganization
  • Time blindness (being unaware of time passing)
  • Impulsivity
  • Distractibility


Although Executive Dysfunction can be challenging, there are ways to improve it. With the right tools and training, your child can improve their Executive Dysfunction and become better at starting and completing important tasks.

Free resource: Executive Dysfunction iceberg

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What is ADHD paralysis?

While not everyone who experiences Executive Dysfunction has ADHD, ADHD paralysis is a direct symptom of ADHD. It can also be a direct result of Executive Dysfunction.

ADHD paralysis occurs when someone gets overwhelmed by tasks or information. In response to this overload, they tend to freeze and stop thinking or functioning correctly. ADHD paralysis isn’t a formal diagnosis, but it is a common symptom of overwhelm in people with ADHD. If your child is dealing with ADHD paralysis, they may frequently be:

  • Unable to start a project, even when it’s high priority
  • Overthinking or overanalyzing problems
  • Unable to prioritize and manage tasks
  • Unable to maintain focus, getting easily distracted
  • Poor at time management
  • Experiencing time blindness (being unaware of time passing)
  • Dealing with rapid mood and emotional changes
  • Unable to listen actively
  • Having difficulty making decisions
  • Jumping from one task to another
  • Losing their train of thought
  • Lacking focus
  • Lacking clarity (brain fog)
  • Avoiding tasks that require sustained focus


Additionally, there are several different kinds of ADHD paralysis, including mental, choice and task. Let’s take a look at these three types to spot their differences:

  • ADHD mental paralysis — When someone is overwhelmed with thoughts, emotions or information, or if they experience sensory overload, this type of ADHD paralysis can occur. It may feel as if the person’s brain is “crashing” like a computer, making it difficult to decide what to do or say next.
  • ADHD choice paralysis — This can also be called analysis paralysis and occurs when someone has been given too many choices to make a decision. Because of the number of choices, they may overthink and overanalyze the situation, become overwhelmed, and struggle to make a choice or take action on a solution.
  • ADHD task paralysis — This type of ADHD paralysis occurs when someone feels hesitant, scared or unmotivated to begin a task. As a result of this feeling, they may procrastinate and avoid the task as much as possible by doing another activity or simply zoning out.


ADHD paralysis and Executive Dysfunction may appear similar, since both result in procrastination and a lack of motivation. However, Executive Dysfunction is more about the difficulty of management skills around tasks, whereas ADHD paralysis is more linked to overwhelm regarding these tasks. While these two issues can feed into each other, they aren’t the same.


How can I help my child who struggles to complete tasks?

Whether your child is dealing solely with Executive Dysfunction or ADHD paralysis as a result of Executive Dysfunction, focusing on building life management skills can help solve both problems. Here are a few ways you can help your child build better Executive Function skills:

  • Organize tasks — If your child is feeling overwhelmed, they’re much less likely to get things done. Helping them organize their tasks can make them feel more manageable. Try making a list of future tasks and then prioritizing them according to urgency and importance. 
  • Set small goals — One big goal, such as cleaning their entire room, can feel very overwhelming to a child struggling with Executive Dysfunction. Consider breaking that big goal down into a series of smaller goals, such as organizing their toys, putting clean clothes away and making their bed. They’re more likely to complete small goals than try to tackle one large goal.
  • Simplify their schedule — Planning a schedule for the entire day may feel too overwhelming for your child. Instead, try designating time for tasks one by one. That way, they’ll only need to plan as far ahead as the next task. Once they complete that task, they can plan out timing for the next small task on their list, and they won’t feel like they’re getting behind if a task takes longer than expected.
  • Don’t strive for perfection — If your child is focused on doing everything perfectly, they’re more likely to get overwhelmed by the details and not do anything at all. Instead, they should focus on completing the task first, then go back and make sure it was done well. Completing a task imperfectly is much better than not completing it at all.
  • Offer rewards — Rewards are a great way to keep your child engaged in the task at hand. If they know there’s a treat waiting for them, they’re more likely to complete the task in a timely manner. Try motivating your child with a small reward like a special snack, social media time, or the promise of playing a favorite game or watching a TV show. This will give them something to look forward to when the task is done.
  • Stay active — Repetitive tasks can get boring easily, so physical activity is an excellent way to help your child stay focused on their tasks. Encourage them to stay active so they don’t get bored and distracted. Short activities like a quick walk or dancing to a favorite song can get their blood flowing, and the short break from work can refresh their focus.
  • Get creative — Try to incorporate novelty into your child’s daily routine to keep things fresh and fun. Turn a chore into a race or a competition, or switch out tasks with something different so your child isn’t doing the same thing every day or week. The more variety they’re offered, the more engaged they’ll be in the present task.
  • Make time for fun — All work and no play can get exhausting, and exhaustion can easily lead to burnout and ADHD paralysis. Make sure your child has time for hobbies and personal interests. Give them time to enjoy their favorite activities and encourage them to try some new ones!


There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to ADHD paralysis and Executive Dysfunction, but there are many ways to help your child learn how to navigate making decisions and accomplishing tasks. With the right tools and focus, you can help your child learn how to take back control and get more done.

Life with an ADHD child isn’t always easy. If you need support in managing your child’s ADHD symptoms, contact our team today for more information about ADHD support.

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