Thomas E. Brown is a clinical psychologist who’s researched attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He’s proposed a model to better understand causes and effects of ADHD.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Thomas Brown has developed a model detailing that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms as a result of impairment of six executive functions.

Executive functions allow you to manage your thinking and behavior. They’re how you develop a plan of action and set priorities. Executive functions are how your brain manages itself.

The premise of Brown’s model is that ADHD is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which then affect executive functions.

One of Brown’s most popular publications on the topic is his 2005 book, “Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults.” He’s currently the director of the Brown Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders in Manhattan Beach, California.

The Brown model views ADHD as a cognitive disorder.

Other models of ADHD have classified the condition as a behavioral disorder. These behavioral approaches explain the condition as a pattern of disruptive behaviors.

The cognitive approach sees ADHD as a condition that primarily involves impairments in cognition and thinking patterns.

The Brown ADHD model says the condition involves the impairment of six executive functions:

  1. Organizing, prioritizing, and activating to work
    • This involves challenges in things like organizing materials, setting priorities for a project, or getting started on a project.
  2. Focusing and shifting attention to tasks
    • Impairment to these functions may translate into problems maintaining focus and attention on a given task or having the constant urge to shift attention to a new one.
  3. Regulating alertness, sustaining effort, and processing speed
    • This involves challenges when monitoring and maintaining attention and trying to sustain a level of effort over time.
  4. Managing frustration and modulating emotions
    • This impairment may translate into emotion-led behavior, emotion-focused thoughts, and difficulty putting feelings in perspective.
  5. Utilizing working memory and accessing recall
    • This may involve difficulty with short-term memory and recalling information, and an inability to remember a particular piece of information on demand.
  6. Monitoring action and regulating behavior
    • This impairment could lead to impulsivity and difficulty altering changing behaviors according to context as well as setting the speed of action.

Though Brown’s ADHD model identifies these functions separately, the human brain can actually use multiple executive functions at the same time. This helps you navigate the many situations that you face on any given day. So, impairment in one area may affect functioning in other areas, too.

Everyone may experience occasional challenges in executive function, but the Brown model says people with ADHD may experience these more frequently and persistently.

This doesn’t mean that every person with ADHD faces the same cognitive troubles or with the same intensity.

To identify formal symptoms of ADHD and determine the level of impairment, Brown developed the Brown Executive Function Attention Scales. These are designed for different age groups, from age 3 to over 19.

Brown developed his ADHD model from clinical interviews with children, adolescents, and adults with the condition. He’s written books on the topic, and also led and co-authored several studies and reviews on ADHD research.

Brown’s ADHD model proposes the condition is a cognitive disorder. This means it’s related to impairment in executive functions as a result of chemical brain imbalances.

The Brown model aims to offer a way to understand ADHD symptoms. Better understanding of symptoms may make it easier to address areas of need.