Monitoring and Regulating Actions with ADHD

“My son often just rushes through his homework and never stops to check his work.”

“I have trouble in social settings – it’s just hard to be in a group.”

“The teacher complains that my daughter just blurts out answers.”

These may seem like quite disparate concerns, but ADHD expert Thomas E. Brown considers them to both stem from the ability to monitor and regulate self-action. This “action” ability is considered one of the brain’s “executive” or management functions.

Monitoring and Regulating Action

Here’s how Brown describes the executive function of monitoring and regulating action:

“Many persons with ADHD, even those without problems of hyperactive behavior, report chronic problems in regulating their actions. They often are too impulsive in what they say or do, and in the way they think, jumping too quickly to inaccurate conclusions. Persons with ADHD also report problems in monitoring the context in which they are interacting. They fail to notice when other people are puzzled, or hurt or annoyed by what they have just said or done and thus fail to modify their behavior in response to specific circumstances. Often they also report chronic difficulty in regulating the pace of their actions, in slowing self and/or speeding up as needed for specific tasks.”

Evidence from both behavioral and neuro-physiological research suggests that monitoring action and processing errors are related to ADHD at the brain level. These functions both occur in the part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. This area of the brain is part of the frontal lobes, often affected in ADHD, and impacts a number of cognitive functions, including decision-making,  impulse control, empathy, and emotion. Monitoring action appears to be modulated in the brain by the neuro-transmitter dopamine (brain chemical that transmits messages between nerve cells in the brain) which is often a factor in ADHD.


Here are some ways monitoring and regulating actions can impact students both academically and socially/behaviorally. Adults can experience similar work- and relationship-related impacts.


  • rushing through assignments
  • failing to read directions carefully
  • taking longer than may be necessary for homework
  • having difficulty planning how long an assignment or project will take, due to erratic regulation of action


  • interruption
  • aggression
  • poor reading of social cues

Supporting Success:

What can help with challenges in monitoring and regulating action?

Some general approaches include:

  • Medication
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Social skills groups
  • Coaching

Self-management can be improved with self-awareness and self-control developed through use of:

  • Regular exercise
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Mindfulness and meditation training

Academic and work-related strategies include the following:

  • Focus on most difficult concepts or assignments earlier in the day
  • Work on assignments and projects in small “chunks”
  • Vary the type and pace of activity to promote attention
  • Highlight key words in directions for homework, syllabi, or work assignments
  • Choose classroom seating and homework areas – or workplace seating -to minimize distraction
  • Take frequent movement breaks
  • Develop routines to promote consistency

Behavioral strategies for young people include:

  • Employ student suggestions for strategies to manage impulsivity
  • Reward self-control in classroom and play settings
  • Teach social skills, including recognition of facial expressions and other social cues
  • Encourage one-on one interactions if group interactions are stressful
  • Use mindfulness training to improve self-regulation

A key behavioral strategies for adults:

  • Mindfulness training and practice, as with young people,  has been shown to improve self-awareness and self-regulation.

Additional resources: A New Understanding of ADHD in Children and Adults: Executive Function Impairments
How Does ADHD Impact School Performance?
ADHD and Social Interactions
Building Social Skills for ADHD Children
How to Jumpstart Friendships for your ADHD Teen
Social Skills in Adults with ADHD

For mindfulness training for adults and teens with ADHD, see:

photo credit: stockimages,

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