Autism and Executive Function

Do we know what we don’t know, what we need to know?

So many autistic adults have had life long struggles with executive function.
Somehow we lack the skills and insights to make our everyday life “work”. We get stuck somewhere mid task, don’t start tasks, lack organization, can’t figure out how to prioritize,
have no idea where to even begin.

Have trouble paying bills on time? Trouble keeping house, doing laundry, maintaining the car, problems with clutter? Self care a problem, not getting needed health care, having healthy eating, sleeping, bathing ? Having problems with food preparation, grocery shopping, meal planning? These every day activities of healthy living are all things we need to do. They also all require several steps to perform. Executive function is working correctly when we know we need to do something, plan how we will do it, when we will do it, know which steps to take to do it in proper order, and how to start and finish. If we have multiple tasks we must figure out which is most important and put it in order of priorities. Deciding which comes first, and when we will do them.

Many of us can use tools to help us function better. We have calendars, alarms, reminders, helpers, or counselors, and we can get aid from occupational therapists or other specialists in teaching us how to assemble all the steps to do any job. This is simply overwhelming for many autistic individuals, and involves too many skills and too much sorting to “go it alone”.

There is no shame in asking others for help.

There is no shame in hiring others to do the “hard stuff” if it seems impossible to master it.

I had to learn every step of most household tasks and build on my knowledge as I was coached about how to do it. I was luckier than most because I could get information from books and practice advice on things like housekeeping, car care, health care, how to do household chores, and I could learn about making budgets, managing money, etc.

A trusted friend or family member, a therapist, or counselor can help you find tools that will work for you.

At 70 years of age, I have a built in routine of long practice. I have times and calendars to help me plan and execute most household and self care chores. I also have “backup plans” for if I miss something. I have a way to get myself back on track so that I don’t allow my whole schedule to go “blooey” and lost it all.

I also have a spouse that follows rigid routines to help keep me on the path to performance.

I have been lucky to have these things. If I had not been taught early how to do each little chore step by step, and been able to read about what I did not know and practice it, I am sure I would be struggling.

The good news is that we can learn how to do these things. We can reach out to others to get the help we need sorting out which skills we need to learn, and how to apply them, and to decide when and where, and how we will do each of these things.

If we take it one little step at a time, the skills of executive function we struggle with can be helped in many ways.

If you find yourself overwhelmed and not knowing what to do, please reach out to others to help you sort through it all and help find the right tools for healthier living.

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