The festivities have all passed and we’re well into the second part of January which means … drum roll please …. Blue Monday is behind us and Spring is somewhere up ahead in the not too distant future.
Executive Function challenges are not part of the diagnostic criteria for autism but they are strongly correlated and often pose major roadblocks in everyday life.
So what are Executive Function Skills?
I wish there was a simple answer but unfortunately we have little consensus on the subject. Researchers are still debating which skills should be included under this umbrella term.
I like to think of them as the “office manager of the brain”. They are the complex brain processes we use in the many day-to-day tasks that keep life on track.
Dawson and Guare’s 2009* model highlights key Executive Function skills which include the ability to:
Children have a baseline level of support from the structures of home and school life. But things change when we start university or work. In these environments, the demands on our Executive Function are much higher and the cracks can start to show. In my experience, those cracks sometimes become craters with disastrous consequences.
It can be particularly confusing when these challenges show up in people with good intellectual ability. We expect to support indiviuals with learning difficulties but we assume that intelligent people can manage everyday activities without excessive difficulty.
And when they don’t, we often make negative assumptions – “He can’t be bothered”, “She doesn’t respect my time”, “He’s not a team player”, “She’s incompetent”, “Why on earth hasn’t this been done already?”
It’s worth noting that our fast-paced world places many demands on our attention which impacts on our ability to do tasks requiring Executive Function skills. In addition, anxiety and stress (currently at very high levels for many people) also negatively affect Executive Function skills.
So, what helps people with Executive Function challenges? Here are a few suggestions:
Interpretation is key.
Adopt a step-by-step process for introducing strategies.
I grew up in South Africa which in many ways, is a land of contrasts. I’m often struck by the manner in which beauty and pain share the same space. Incredible feats of selfless kindness alongside heartless acts of cruelty. Extreme wealth and unbearable poverty. In a matter of moments, my emotions can ride a rollercoaster from the joy of breath-taking scenery to the sadness of seeing people fight for survival.
Autism, likewise can be full of contrasts. Extreme capability and talent for complex tasks can easily co-exist with significant challenges in everyday activities. Unravelling these perplexing details and finding ways forwards is an essential part of supporting people so they can thrive.
Linda Philips empowers and equips people to communicate effectively, find freedom in their relationships and experience greater emotional well-being.
*P. Dawson & R. Guare. (2009). Smart But Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential. New York: The Guildford Press. 314 pages. ISBN: 978 1 59385 445 4
Linda will be co-hosting a free webinar for parents / educators of autistic university students. On this new training, she will be joined by Victoria Bagnall who is a pioneer in the field of executive function skills development. See you on the 16 February at 7pm BST! Reserve your spot here.
This blog post is for educational purposes and should not be taken as medical or therapeutic advice. If you need medical or therapeutic support, please consult your medical practitioner or therapist.