Many people with Autism and ADHD have various co-existing conditions and challenges that go along with their primary disabilities. One of the most common challenges that go along with Autism and ADHD is Executive Dysfunction.
What Is Executive Dysfunction?
Executive Dysfunction is a challenge that affects the individual cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. They make it more challenging with planning, problem-solving, organization, and time management.
As a woman with Autism and ADHD, I also struggle with Executive Dysfunction. Following and understanding directions are very difficult. Sometimes I think I understand something that someone asks, and I end up doing the opposite of what’s asked or something totally different. One day, while helping with a project, I was asked to pull pipe through another room in my basement, and I thought I was supposed to go up to the laundry room and pull the pipe up there. To the people I was helping, I was not listening, but that wasn’t true. My brain thought I needed to go through the laundry room instead of the other room in the basement. If people aren’t specific with me, that’s what happens. I can’t decipher what they want without specific directions. I have a poor sense of direction and often do things in the opposite direction and it confuses others and it frustrates them, which in turn gets me very upset.
When it comes to spoken directions or following directions in a video, I cannot remember what was said right after. Someone will give me a direction and all of a sudden, I will have to ask them to repeat it. I try so hard to focus and pay attention but my brain runs a mile per minute and I forget. Forgetfulness is a major issue for me.
Due to my struggles with auditory processing and executive dysfunction I cannot remember spoken tasks from others. If someone is giving me a list of tasks to do, I have to type them into an app on my Moto Z4. The same applies to my shopping lists. I type or handwrite them using a Surface Pen on my Moto Z4. My Moto Z4 has had to become my memory because of my short-term memory challenges. This isn’t laziness or defiance. This is a real struggle with executive dysfunction.
I’m so forgetful that I have to set reminders to check my Google Calendar, email and to-do lists because I get so busy doing different things throughout the day that I don’t stay aware of the important stuff. I get “tunnel vision” when deeply engrossed in a task or am deep in thought with my writing.
I forget to do tasks so easily if I don’t have my Moto Z4 remind me. I’ll say I’m going to do something later and I’ll totally forget about it. That’s why I had to start setting alarms on my Moto Z4 when I do laundry because I forget about it and sometimes the wet laundry doesn’t get moved into the dryer in time and I have to rewash it. I also have to set alarms to take my medication and to brush my teeth.
Another struggle I have is time management and the concept of time. I’m always worried about not having enough time in a day to do what I need to do and still be able to do the things I enjoy. My anxiety over time is so bad, that I cannot focus on one task, because I’m worried I’ll run out of time to finish it.
Telling time is still a struggle for me. I can read a clock if the hours and minutes are marked, but it takes me a long time to read it. If there are no indicators for the hours and minutes, I cannot read it. Calculating time is difficult for me, but if I calculate it using 24 hour format instead of 12 hours, it’s easier. I’m getting better with adding time than I used to be, though.
Math is an issue too. I cannot do math very well in my head. I can’t seem to start the thought process in my head to calculate numbers with multiple digits. But depending on my required measurements for cooking recipes, I can figure out and do simple conversions of liquids in my head.
For example: 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon. Half a tablespoon is a teaspoon and a half. 4 tablespoons is 1/4 cup. 1/8 teaspoon would be the equivalent to a dash. So if you need a dash of salt and don’t know how much that is, just measure it in your 1/8 teaspoon and add your ingredient to whatever it is you are cooking in.
I can also convert ounces to cups in my head, which I learned recently. 8 oz = 1 cup. 1 pound is 16 oz, which is also 2 cups. 32 oz is 4 cups, which is one quart. 4 quarts equal 1 gallon which is 128 oz and 16 cups. I’ve done cooking long enough to learn a few conversions.
Another area that I struggle with is making enough time to watch the TV programs that I record. I forget to watch them and have to set reminders in my Moto Z4 or have someone else remind me to watch them. I have a few programs that I watch every week and enjoy them. Most of them are medical programs, which I find medical stuff very interesting, and always have.
One of my biggest struggles is organization. My bedroom looks like a tornado hit it but it’s getting better. I’m trying to work on organizing it either everyday or every other day. One common trait of executive dysfunction is having ideas of how you want to do a big task, but struggle to make those ideas into actions.
Another struggle with executive dysfunction is having a tolerance for frustration. I do not do well when frustrated. As a matter of fact, I melt down easily when stressed or frustrated. I start yelling, screaming and cursing when my frustration gets to be too much to handle. When it happens, I feel so out of control with myself and it takes awhile to calm down. Sometimes the only thing that calms me down is playing with my Moto Z4 or cuddling with it.
Executive dysfunction is the most frustrating part about living with Autism and ADHD especially since it’s so misunderstood by many. Many people think it’s laziness or defiance, but it isn’t. It’s a cognitive disorder that makes the brain work differently and it’s something that needs understanding and the right support and accommodations, not assumptions that your child is being defiant or not listening. Every individual needs different accommodations. What works for one person, doesn’t work for another.
How Can I Help Myself Or A Loved One With Executive Dysfunction?
They’re are many ways to help you or your child with executive dysfunction. In addition to being tolerant and understanding, try these tips:
🌹Set alarms on computer, tablet or phone
🌺 Make expectations clear
🏵️ Make a social story about tasks and the consequences about not doing them
🌲 Use a paper calendar/planner or calendar app such as Google Calendar and color code. If using paper, have fun with stickers and pens!
🌻 Make a “night before” basket and put necessary supplies and assignments in it and put it by the door on a table or counter and teach your child or yourself to check it before going out.
🌸Checklists are your best friend, whether it’s paper or digital
🌾 Make your shopping list each month and keep adding to it throughout the month, not right before your need to go shopping.
🌼Type or write a meal plan every week or every 2 weeks, print it out and place it on your fridge. That way when someone asks “what’s for dinner?”, all they have to do is look on the paper and today’s date.
🍉 Keep a notebook or your smartphone handy so when you think of ideas, you can write or type it and you won’t forget. Also, categorize and organize your notes by sticky tabs (if using paper), or in labels or folders on your computer or phone.
🍇Organize your files and photos on your smartphone and computer so when you look for a specific one, you’ll know where to find it, and chances are, all you’ll have to do is search for it.
🌷If your work or school schedule allows it, set certain times on certain days of the week for your chores and studying.
🥝If you are struggling to meet deadlines, input your not only your deadlines into your calendar, but also times each day to work on assignments. Don’t procrastinate and wait until right before the due date to complete them!
🌰 Before cooking, pull out ingredients and cooking tools before you are ready to cook, to ensure you have everything you need to prepare your meal. If you are using your Crock-Pot, pull out your Crock-Pot and put it on the counter, along with your non-perishable ingredients and put them unopened in your Crock-Pot, and take them out when you are ready to cook, before you open them and add your ingredients. This gives you a visual reminder of what you are going to cook and seeing your Crock-Pot, first thing in the morning when you go to make your tea or coffee, will remind you what you are cooking.
🏞️ Take photographs of your cooking and tasks step by step, and either print them out or put them in a Word document along with notes, relating to that task and you’ll have a visual about that particular task, craft or recipe.
☀️ Talk to your family, friends, boss, teachers, classmates, and co-workers and explain to them about your executive dysfunction so they can help you if you need it and they can learn to understand it. Nothing is worse than someone getting upset with you over something you struggle with!
🍑 Talk to your family, and team at work and school and come up with a support plan to help you when things get tough.
These are since great tips to start with, and I hope they help you. Do you or a loved one live with the challenge of executive dysfunction? I’ve followed many of these tips myself, and they really do help! If you have any questions or comments, please share!