Barkley's Model of ADHD: Behavioral Inhibition and Time Awareness and Management

Russell Barkley (1997, 1998, 2000a, b) has been instrumental in conceptualizing ADHD as primarily a problem in behavioral inhibition, which then leads to a faulty sense of time awareness and management. And for Barkley, it is the deficit in time awareness and management that is the most detrimental for persons with ADHD:

Understanding time and how we organize our own behavior within and toward it is a major key to the mystery of understanding ADHD...I now believe that the awareness of themselves across time is the ultimate yet nearly invisible disability afflicting those with ADHD. (Barkley, 2000a, p. 30)

Barkley notes that persons with ADHD have difficulties with executive functions. Executive functions involve a number of self-directed behaviors, such as working memory, inner speech, and self-regulation of emotions. Working memory, which we discussed in Chapter 8, is the ability to hold things in mind while also engaging in other cognitive tasks. Problems in working memory can affect the ability of the person with ADHD to have hindsight and foresight (Barkley, 2000a). Hindsight enables us to learn from prior experiences, which we can then apply when formulating plans for new experiences. Foresight allows us to "see" ahead and anticipate events, so that they may guide our behavior. Together, hindsight and foresight create

a window on time (past, present, and future) of which the individual is aware. The temporal opening of that window probably increases across development, at least up to age 30 years. This might suggest that across child and adolescent development, the individual comes to organize and direct behavior toward events that lie increasingly distant in the future. (Barkley, 2000a, p. 21)

Inner speech, another executive function, develops in young children and helps them regulate their behavior. Inner speech is the inner "voice" we use to "talk" to ourselves when faced with difficult problems. This speech may start out as talking out loud and then become internalized over time. Very young children, for example, often talk aloud when playing or concentrating on tasks. For most of us, this speech has become internalized by the teenage years, even though as adults we may find ourselves talking out loud when faced with very complex problems. For those with ADHD, however, the almost seamless border between inner speech and thought fails to occur naturally, and this interferes, among other things, with their ability to follow rules or instructions.

Self-regulation of emotions also presents problems for many students with ADHD. They often overreact to emotionally charged situations. For example, Shannon's parents and teachers have commented on her inability to modulate her emotions. Shannon's mother, for example, recounts:

Shannon's always had a problem with either very positive or very negative news. Her father and I have learned that we can't just "surprise" her with good news. For example, last month when we were out to dinner at a nice restaurant, I wanted to tell her that I had just found out that afternoon that her best friend, Marcia, was inviting her over for a sleep-over the upcoming weekend. I knew I couldn't tell her while we were eating because she would likely explode with joy and embarrass us all. So I waited until we were in the car on the way home. And, of course, we all got to be the recipients of her earsplitting shouts of glee.

And she also overreacts to bad news. Shannon's temper can really flare up if she thinks you've wronged her in any way.

Kerris Ireland, Shannon's mother

Barkley hypothesizes that such problems in regulating emotions contribute to motivational problems for individuals with ADHD. They are unable to channel their emotions to help them persist in the pursuit of future goals. And having learning disabilities in combination with ADHD makes it even more difficult to maintain motivation in the face of failure. As one adult with ADHD and learning disabilities has put it:

I can see how easy it is for someone with LD and ADHD to give up. It hurts so much to try hard every day, sometimes relearning what you learned the day before because you forgot it all, and comparing yourself to others and realizing you are different! If you fail, then you don't have to push on. Others can feel sorry for you-take care of you; it's easier, at least it seems so. But what happens when we give up is that we try to find other avenues to make up for what we lost. Often, those avenues are devastatingly more painful than struggling to get what we need to be independent. Giving up our independence, giving up our dream, is like dying. The key is not to give up but to be realistic, to be optimistic, and to find the support one needs. Then, apply the hard work. Though it may take a lifetime, it is time well spent. (Crawford, 2002, pp. 139-140)