Autism and Executive Functioning

He’s not just disorganised ok? My plot is lost, and it’s somewhere in the bottom of my ASD kid’s school bag amongst 6 week old homework, lolly sticks, and important letters to sign.



Seriously. He’s not just disorganised ok? It’s not just that I haven’t taught him the skills needed to be an organised planning soul. Anyone who knows me knows organisation is my thang. I do organisation and I do it well. If anyone could teach this ASD kiddo a thing or two about planning, preparation and organisation it’d be me. I’m trying. And oh look, there’s a brick wall to whack my head against…


Executive Functioning doesn’t actually go hand in hand with Autism. And that’s going to be frustrating for the 80% of us parenting an Autistic child with Executive Functioning problems. You see, despite it being so prevalent, some research in the 1990s basically said it’s not linked enough to be part of the diagnostic criteria (see here for more info).


But for us, as part of this whole package that we call Autism, Executive Functioning is up there with Sensory Processing, Auditory Processing, Stimming et al. It’s part of the package. So we need to run with it.


What is Executive Functioning?

Basically it’s the bit of us that makes organising, planning, sustaining attention, sequencing, the setting of goals and the ability to prioritise happen. We all have had to learn it. Some of us are naturally better at it than others (go me). In real life it’s the bit that enables the child to not just do their homework but remember to a) put their name on it b) put it in their bag and c) hand the bloody thing in. It’s the bit that enables them to approach a homework project about a poster of Britain, and to plan how you’re going to do the country outline before writing on it the exact population of London. It’s the bit that says you can’t put on the trousers before the pants (unless you want the superhero look, right).


And oh boy it’s yet another hot bed for driving a parent crazy. You see, we’re on the highway to High School. In about 18 months time this kiddo is going to need to cope with the demands of different subjects, different homework, and importantly – a journey on public transport. That’s pretty scary for a mumma of an ASD kiddo who hasn’t yet learnt the basics of a school bag (not for want of trying I tell ya).


As Temple Grandin put it: “I cannot hold one piece of information in my mind while I manipulate the next step in the sequence.”


And that’s Boo’s issue. Sequencing goes haywire. The order goes kaput. The result can be chaos and confusion. He’ll get lost in the minor details but completely fail to see the bigger picture.


What Can We Do?


You mean apart from hit your head against a brick wall and peel a sticky lolly stick off a School Trip Permission Form?


Well, for me there’s an element of plugging the gaps. Boo struggles with Executive Functioning, but he’s good at other stuff. Yes Executive Functioning is important for the rest of his life, and I’ll continue to teach, impress and encourage, but we also have to actually live in the here and now. So if I have to remind him, continually, about what to do with your belongings when you come in from school then so be it. He’ll get there. I’m stepping back slowly. He’s not NT, he’s not going to reach whatever preconceived age appropriate target the fictional perfect parents have set for their child who can take responsibility for the family’s filing system at the age of 5.


Beyond that it’s using some tools to help. Planners, lists, checklists and timetables. Our house is governed by them. There isn’t a whole heap of wall space left which doesn’t have a checklist or routine stuck on with blu-tak and smudged by sticky fingers. That way Boo only has to remember one thing: check the list. For more info and ideas, check here – this is a seriously awesome and detailed article on the joys of Executive Functioning.


And so we plough on. And fingers crossed he’ll be ready for Senior School without too much disorganisation along the way.


2 thoughts on “Autism and Executive Functioning

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