Executive Functioning

What is executive functioning?

Executive functioning refers to a person's ability to process information. It includes skills such as:

  1. Organizing
  2. Planning
  3. Paying attention
  4. Inhibiting inappropriate responses

Many people with autism have difficulty with executive functioning. They may have trouble with certain skills like planning, staying organized, sequencing information, and self-regulating emotions.

Some people pay attention to minor details, but have trouble seeing how these details fit into a bigger picture.  

Others have trouble maintaining their attention in the classroom or other settings.

When preparing to do a task, some may find it hard to organize their thoughts and actions in order to figure out what sequence of steps are needed.  

Executive functioning difficulties can also be associated with poor impulse control.  

Some have difficulty with complex thinking that requires holding more than one train of thought at the same time. For instance, Temple Grandin once said: "I cannot hold one piece of information in my mind while I manipulate the next step in the sequence."  

Executive functioning issues can cause challenges in the classroom setting. The book A Parent’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism offers a few tips to help students with autism succeed in the classroom.

Tips to help students with executive functioning issues succeed in the classroom

  • Use a weekly homework log that can be sent from school to home and back, to keep everyone informed of when work is due and progress 
  • Offer assignment checklists to break up large, often overwhelming tasks into more manageable pieces 
  • Encourage student to use a day planner to stay organized 
  • Post classroom schedules to keep all students on track 
  • Leave enough time to provide instructions, repeat instructions, and then offer individual assistance to students 
  • Position the student's desk in a place that is near the teacher and away from distractions