Executive Function and my Autism Spectrum Disorder

Throughout college I have become increasingly aware of my autism and its effect on my perception of the world. Gradually adopting adult tasks has exacerbated problems associated with my neurodivergence that were otherwise left alone in childhood. One facet that I think is particularly important to discuss in autistic adults is that of executive function.

Cynthia Kim, in her blog Musings of an Aspie says:

In practice, executive function is a slippery concept. Sometimes it looks like responsibility. Sometimes it looks like self-discipline. Sometimes it looks like being a competent adult.

If you have poor EF, people might mistake you for being disorganized, lazy, incompetent, sloppy, or just plain not very bright. Why? Because executive function encompasses so many essential areas of daily living. Nearly everything we do calls on areas of executive function. Cooking. Cleaning. Parenting. Work. School. Self-care.

My struggle with executive function manifests itself in various college life situations. Labs, cooking, jobs, studying, grocery shopping, socializing, and general errands that need getting done. It can be very frustrating to be unable to do things that society presents as so simple.

Sometimes, I know that I need to do a thing at some point, but it’s like there is an inhibitor in my brain that’s like ‘nah bro, chill out’ and so I just don’t do it because it feels like a strain on my mental capacity.

Of course, if I continued to live this way I’d get nothing done and would struggle for quite some time. So I must develop mechanisms through which I can thrive.

For cooking, I simply have to accept the fact that I’ll have to improve through practice, and that I may or may not take longer than the average individual. Grocery shopping is an entirely different problem, since that requires planning, cooking skills, and the ability to step foot in a grocery store without having an onslaught of sensory stimuli overwhelm you.

Labs… I don’t think I’ll ever be good at labs. They horrify me. You have all this new equipment and shit to play with and there’s some white guy with a PhD talking to everyone from the front of the classroom, saying some mumbo jumbo about whatsit and giving instructions; suddenly you’re thrown into the thick of it and are expected to know the content, equipment, and to follow procedures… it’s a lot.

My method of overcoming my issues with self discipline is to write a to-do list prior to each day and to hold myself accountable to it when feasible. It’s not a perfect system, but it helps me get a lot of things done.

Beyond my own capacity for self-improvement, it’s also necessary for me to rely on my friends for help. I don’t think I would have made it as far without the patience and understanding of those closest to me, and for that I am grateful.

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