Behavioral Inhibitions & ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition that affects millions of children in the United States 4. According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 million children between the ages of 3 and 17 had ADHD in 2009 1. Common symptoms associated with ADHD include poor attention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Children with ADHD also are subject to additional behavioral inhibition deficits because of their impulsiveness, according to Russell A. Barkley, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston . If your child has ADHD, it is important to understand the results of his impaired behavioral inhibitions.

Working Memory

A person’s working memory helps him keep things in mind while performing other tasks.This executive human function is what allows a person to recall an event and use the memory to regulate current and future behaviors. Children with ADHD have an underdeveloped working memory, which hinders their ability to learn from mistakes, according to Barkley. As a result, your child’s deficient working memory might cause decreased inhibitions, resulting in impaired planning and decision-making abilities.

Internalized Speech

Young children learning to speak often say out loud much of what comes into their brain. Eventually, children develop internalized speech, which allows them to keep most of their thoughts private. Barkley suggests that children with ADHD suffer from a severe delay in their ability to use internal language, which is a crucial tool that helps children reflect, contemplate and self-regulate. The fact that your child’s behavior is most likely not directed by inner speech results in his inability to adhere to rules and follow instructions.

Emotional Self-control

Barkley said he believes humans are the only species capable of keeping their emotions private, but children with ADHD have a strong tendency to readily exhibit their emotions -- good and bad. This lack of self-regulation is what causes children afflicted with ADHD to have emotionally charged outbursts when faced with difficult or upsetting circumstances. Your child’s inability to avert negative emotions can cause him to be seen as less mature than peers and can have a detrimental effect on his social relationships.


In circumstances that do not offer instantaneous rewards, children who have ADHD often appear tired, undisciplined or unfocused. Barkley describes children with ADHD as having a lack of intrinsic motivation rather than a lack of attention. If your child isn’t able to persist when it comes activities such as completing schoolwork, cleaning his room or paying attention during daily circumstances, it is likely a result of low to nonexistent intrinsic motivation.