Executive Function Primer (Part 2)

This part 2 in a series about executive function. It looks at the remainder of the organizational functions that were introduced in part 1 : problem solving, verbal reasoning, working memory and attention.


Problem Solving

Problem solving is another umbrella term, encompassing the activities related to identifying and overcoming obstacles to reach a predefined goal. Probably the most complex cognitive process that we engage in, it draws on nearly all of the other aspects of executive function.

Here is the traditional problem solving cycle, with related EF components in parentheses:

  1. Identify the Problem (attention, initiation of action, monitoring of actions, working memory)

  2. Define the Problem (cognitive flexibility, reasoning, working memory)

  3. Form a Strategy (planning, reasoning, cognitive flexibility)

  4. Organize Information (working memory, attention, reasoning)

  5. Allocate Resources (planning, initiation of actions, inhibition, cognitive flexibility)

  6. Monitor Progress (attention, working memory, monitoring of actions, inhibition)

  7. Evaluate Results (working memory, reasoning, planning)

For me, that list is missing a very critical step: Recognize That a Problem Exists. Because this is where I often run into trouble with problem solving. I’m pretty good at reasoning out solutions to a defined problem. Not so good at actually recognizing the presence of a problem. And that’s executive function too.

And again there is an ironic twist lurking under the surface here: when someone else is having a problem, what is the default autistic response? Fix it! Come up with a plan! Whether they want us to or not.

We are instinctive problems solvers, but only when it comes to other people’s problems, it seems. Maybe because we wish other people would do this for us? Executive function is such a strange beast. 

Verbal Reasoning

Verbal reasoning is the ability to understand, analyze and think critically about concepts presented in words. Think “reading comprehension” questions. Identifying synonyms and antonyms. Choosing the right pair of words from a list to complete a sentence. Pretty much everything you hated about the SAT or GRE is verbal reasoning.

At first glance it’s hard to see why verbal reasoning is a component of executive function. People who are widely read or have large vocabularies have an inherent advantage on verbal reasoning tests. In that sense it’s more of an academic skill than a cognitive processing ability.

However, if we look at verbal reasoning in real life situations rather than on tests, it becomes easier to see how this is an executive functioning ability. Analyzing, understanding and thinking critically require prioritizing, organizing, remembering and otherwise manipulating information in complex ways. Verbal reasoning also draws on the EF domains of working memory and attention. Thinking about it this way makes it obvious that poor verbal reason contributes to common autistic language processing difficulties, like struggling to parse spoken instructions.

There are also some subtle ways that other autistic traits can undermine verbal reasoning. Often verbal reasoning has a social element to it–to successfully analyze the other person’s words, we need to also understand the coded social messages that underpin those words. Verbal reasoning can also rely on the ability to think in gray areas or to make temporary but illogical assumptions, which can be counterintuitive for people on the spectrum. Think about all those true/false or reading comprehensions questions that make you want to shout “but what about _______?”

If you struggle with the practical aspects of verbal reasoning–the kind we use every day–it can help to pull the verbal part out of the equation. Write things down, diagram concepts, draw conceptual representations of the information, make timelines, visually organize by color or shape. Do an end run around this aspect of executive function by using your natural thinking style to perform the same functions in a more efficient way.

Working Memory

Working memory is basically short term memory–holding pieces of information in your head for a short amount of time as you complete a task. Remembering a phone number while you dial it. Remembering what you’re looking for in the junk drawer. Remembering which doors you’ve already been through on a video game level.

Autistic people tend to have notoriously bad working memories. A clue to why might lie in the link between working memory and selective attention. People who have difficulty filtering out environmental stimuli (selective attention) tend to have poor working memory. And who has more difficulty filtering out environmental stimuli than people on the spectrum?

The basic theory here is that environmental stimuli compete for brain resources with whatever we’re attempting to hold in our short term memory, weakening working memory capacity. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Doing any task is harder when there is an environmental distraction. However, most people’s brains naturally filter out environmental distractions via selective attention–the ability to direct our attention toward important information while letting unimportant information exist around the periphery of consciousness as white noise.

One of the few situations in which this type of filtering happens for me is when I’m writing or engaging in some other intense interest. The house could fall down around me and I’d hardly notice. But put me in a classroom or an office or a restaurant–any place I’m expected to focus on something outside myself–and I get a cacophony of environmental noise competing with that focal point. It’s almost as if I can 100% shut off the outside world by focusing internally or I have to let everything in to focus on an external source of information. Which just might be an explanation for why special interests are so relaxing and have such an intense pull.



The attention component of executive function is closely tied to working memory and is largely responsible for the “autistic people can’t multitask” trope. Basically, attention functions along two axes–top down control of attention by our executive function system (via the prefrontal cortex) and bottom up control of attention by sensory inputs.

Because autistic individuals have so much difficulty filtering sensory input–especially when it comes to filtering out sensory input–our bottom up control systems tend to dominate. That makes it harder for top down control of attention to take the reins. The problem is, top-down control is what most people think of as paying attention.

But attention itself isn’t that narrowly defined. Attention is simply where your conscious mind is focused. It might be focused on the conversation you’re having or it might be focused on the sound of the air conditioner vent above your head. The irony here is how enmeshed attention and working memory are. Poor working memory makes it harder to filter out sensory input, allowing the bottom-up system to dominate. When the bottom-up system dominates, working memory suffers, creating a vicious cycle.

This is why having a quiet, distraction-free environment seems to work miracles when it comes to productivity and focus. Purposely reducing sensory distractions quiets the bottom-up attention system, making it easier for the top-down system to actively direct attention to the task at hand.


In Part Three: the regulation of action functions–inhibition, initiation and monitoring

53 thoughts on “Executive Function Primer (Part 2)”

  1. I’ve just found your blog, and you have no idea how much better it’s making me feel. I’m 30, just off of a marriage I destroyed through doubt, inability to make decisions well, inability to identify my wants and emotions, and a number of other factors that have led me to realize I am likely on the spectrum. I’ve long thought my father was, but avoided thinking I am. Reading that other people deal with issues like being unable to plan and act on plans, even though I know what a plan looks like and even what I want to do and the task is simple (I have dry cleaning in a laundry basket that I’ve known I need to take in for months now), is such a relief. I’ve thought I was a bad person and that I should just ‘do better.’ Now instead of hating myself, I can start thinking about techniques for managing what I lack internally that many other people take for granted. I’m still terrified that I’ll never be a ‘good,’ reliable worker or that I’ll relapse and fail at living independently, but at least now I don’t think I’m a horrible human being and a curse on a loving NT mother and a (previously) loving ex I chose to divorce out of fear and confusion.

    Thank you.

    1. This comment made my day! 😀

      Not that you’ve had such a rough time recently, of course. I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through all that without understanding the root cause until it was over. I hope the realization that you’re probably on the spectrum and all of the knowledge that comes with that helps you in moving forward. I was really happy to read that this helped you feel better about yourself and see the possibility of finding workable coping strategies.

      1. I’d certainly rather not have had the rough time, but I’ve learned enough through about it that it may be worth it in the wrong run. In any case, there’s no going back and fixing it! So all I can do is learn and move on. And resources like your blog are/will be a lot of help 🙂 Thinking in terms of the spectrum, executive function, special interests, etc. is already helping me relate better to my father, whom I’ve long been scared of and thought didn’t really love me, because he can be erratic, cold, reclusive, dismissive, and have spontaneous bursts of strangeness and anger. Just within the last week alone, I’m already better able to find ways to talk with him that are less triggering for both of us and better able to appreciate the gestures he’s made throughout my lifetime that do indicate love. Obviously that didn’t come *just* from reading your blog, but the few articles I’ve read here combined with other resources have been a great help to just thinking differently about him, myself, and my siblings.

        Now I will stop being ramblingly confessional 😉 But, yes, thank you.

        1. You’re welcome! It definitely sounds like your father is on the spectrum and as someone recently commented on another post, that doesn’t mean you’ll magically understand each other. But it sounds like you’re finding the tools to make things better between you, which is awesome. 🙂

  2. i got fired from jobs in the fast food business because i can never multi task. when i do something, i give it my whole and nothing else exist. i dont see anything, the world disappear when i work on something or pay attention to something. i have a narrow and focused way of concentrating on the task at hand. now i know why.
    in autism, short memory is lousy and my mother always said if i didnt have my head glued to my shoulders etc.. but the long term memory is very powerful, and i remember things from early childhood. the reason why our long term memory is better is the same reason for why our short term memory is so lousy, because we cant filter anything out. all the information pours in with enough power as to make us forget everything else and to remember a childhood incident.
    i love your input.

    1. Wow this is so true. I work in a pharma compagny with open office. Seriously the place feels like kryptonite. Last year in my old job I was a succesful researcher and now I am 10% of that. I wonder that they havnt fired me yet. I am looking for a new job. Primarily objects are 1) quiet 2) solitude 3) somethings that needs organising 4) a chance to discover something!

    2. I have a frighteningly good long term memory too! I think autisticook has an interesting theory about using our long-term memory to compensate for shortcomings in our working memory.

      Multitasking seems like a fallacy to me. Can people really do two things at once? It seems like that would lead to poor performance on both.

      1. I don’t think anyone is good at multi-tasking, in reality. But our particular problems with it might stem more from our particular difficulties in task-switching, changing focus or getting started on a new task. The others at a fast food restaurant may only work on one thing at once but they might be able to monitor what they’re working on more easily and know when it’s time to switch focus onto a different task.

  3. Executive functions are a difficult concept to understand, so it’s very helpful to see how you’re able to isolate the various components and to also show how they interact with each other.

    1. I’m glad this is helpful. It’s such a big complex topic and I feel like I’m just scratching the surface. I may end up tackling each of the functions in more detail in future posts.

  4. At first I thought my working memory isn’t all that bad, until you got to the example of remembering a phone number. That’s when I realised that I store EVERYTHING in my long term memory. I’ve found a workaround for my shoddy working memory without even realising it.

    (Example? I know my 18 digit IBAN bank account number by heart. And my social security number. And the telephone number of my best friend’s parents. She moved out of her parents’ house 20 years ago).

    1. This is a great point! My long term memory has always been one of my strong points. I have not only my own but also my husband’s credit card numbers memorized. 🙂 Do you also find that you retain all sorts of odd bits of information that you don’t really need? One of the most common questions I get is “why/how do you know that?” in response to my offering up some odd fact in a conversation. And my answer is usually “I have no idea!”

      1. My mind is an absolute treasure house of odd and completely random information. I once entertained my coworkers at lunch by telling them about the Guano Wars.

        Now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I see that I do a lot of things that are recommended “tricks” to store things in long term memory, even if it’s not necessary for me to store it long term. Like phone numbers. I look up a phone number, I repeat it a couple of times to myself, I look for a certain “rhythm” or pattern to help me remember it long enough to call the number… and then I can’t get it out of my head anymore. I suspect I do that with other kinds of information too, maybe out of a subconscious fear of failure if I don’t know the answer to something. Like I’ve trained my entire mind to perform well on tests.

          1. I’ve heard of the Guano Wars once, too. I think because it’s the sort of thing that I would come across and think, “Wait, there was a thing called the Guano Wars? I have to read about this!”

              1. Who could refrain from Googling a thing called the Guano Wars? I mean, aside from those whose vocabulary doesn’t extend to the word guano? Because, c’mon – it’s Guano Wars. It sounds like a thing that would be in a Monty Python skit, except it happened.

                (also, I’m pretty sure that I fell out of my chair giggling when I first read the name, because it’s a thing I would do and that’s my sense of humor)

  5. I took the GRE in October, and it wasn’t really until then that I realized I pretty much suck at reading comprehension. Oh, I’m great when it comes to books of my choice. Harry Potter, for instance. Great comprehension. But give me a long passage from the GRE about astronomy or how the Southerner’s felt about the Civil War? I’m gone. Out. Done. Over. I actually did *wonderfully* on the parts where I had to pick two words to complete a sentence. But vocab is a special interest, and I obsess about synonyms and word meanings. I geeked out on that section and actually really enjoyed it. But reading comprehension? It was HORRID. Not only did I not remember a thing that I read, but I always felt like every single answer was plausible. HOW IN THE WORLD was I supposed to know what the author intended the main point to be? How do I know which was the most important sentence? WTF?! It did me in. I didn’t realize this was an EF skill! Makes a lot more sense now.

    I realized my working memory wasn’t stellar when I took an IQ test a year and a half ago. I didn’t realize how shoddy it was. My long term memory is brilliant, though. Pretty exceptional, actually. And problem solving? SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS!!! <–that's basically my life–only when it comes to other people's problems, though. 😛 You were totally spot on about that. Made me chuckle, actually…because how many times did I get in trouble as a child for trying to solve an adult's problem, when they were *obviously* (to me) just missing out on some piece of logic? Way too often. 😛 I've gotten better as an adult–just learning that people don't want you to solve all their problems–but it's still my innate reaction. Haha.


    1. I have the ‘every single answer is plausible’ problem on reading comprehension tests. And then I’ll read the reasoning that they give in the answer guide on practice tests and be like ‘how would anyone come up with that?!’ So yeah, you’re not alone there.

      My working memory scores on the IQ test I took at my AS evaluation were in the single digits and teens (out of 100%) but bizarrely I can still remember some of the words that were in the word lists and other word tests. More than a year later. So while I didn’t remember much at the time, what I did remember really really stuck. 😀

    2. Absolutely digging this series, but I felt I had to jump in here: I am actually a licensed attorney, but it took me three tries at the bar exam in order to make it. I now realize that so much of this was due to autistic executive functioning issues. Legal questions, especially bar questions, are designed so that even NTs will look at them and see more than one plausible answer. So every time I looked at a review question, I’d get frustrated and throw things because at least three of the choices made sense to me. How I eventually passed the bar, I will never know, but it’s illuminating to look back and notice the patterns in hindsight.

      1. That test sounds like a nightmare. Good job passing it, regardless of how many tries it took! I took some practice GRE tests and the reading comprehension questions killed me. I was always so sure that I had the right answer and that was rarely the case.

  6. Yet again – many thanks for this! I love how your posts get us to think about our behaviour in different, and often more detailed, ways.
    You made me wonder about my short term memory because when I did an IQ test a few years ago when I was having problems with my memory (they did this instead of sending me to a neurologist as I’d asked – all pre diagnosis). I actually scored top marks on the working memory bit, especially where they give you up to 6 letters and 6 numbers in a random mixed order and you have to recite back the numbers in ascending order and then the letters the same. I got all of them right easily, could have done more. But thinking about it it’s because I actually visualised them as they were read out (as a set) and then could see them in my head and read them back in the correct order. Which is not the same thing, is it? I also use the rhythm. I remember phone numbers while I dial by reciting them several times until I can see them in my head and I also remember the rhythm/cadence.
    Also I don’t touch type, I watch the keys as I hit them and people ask how I know when I make a mistake, and I know because the cadence/pattern isn’t right – and it’s the sound as well as the movement that tells me.
    Which suggests that when I’m having trouble with new stuff I could try deliberately using visualisation and rhythm to help me, if I’m not already doing it.

    And yes to the problem solving, I totally agree with Rae. Thanks so much 🙂

      1. Actually I’ve been told repeatedly that I’m the loudest typist that anyone has ever met. And people think I’m really weird for typing this fast with only two fingers. I can’t type with more than two fingers because I need to be able to see the keyboard.

        1. YES!!!! I’m a super fast two-finger typist – but sometimes I do use two on each hand. When I’m typing one finger it is usually the middle finger on my right and the index on my left, though sometimes I also use the middle finger on my left. Oh and my right thumb for the space bar! And yes it’s for maximum visibility 🙂
          Which ones do you use?

          1. Usually, only my index fingers on both hands. I sometimes use my left thumb for two-finger key combinations with the Alt key, and my left pinkie for the Ctrl key. My right hand never gets to use other fingers, which is funny because I’m right handed. 🙂

            The pattern is so ingrained that I don’t even really look at the keys, even though I seem to be looking at them… because my current laptop doesn’t have a QWERTY keyboard, it has a QWERTZ keyboard. But I’ve still got it set to qwerty, because that’s the pattern I’m used to. So the key that’s marked Z actually types a Y, lol.

            1. THAT! Yes, it’s the same for me, except I use the fourth (ring) finger of my left hand for Shift and Ctrl. Looking at my keyboard it’s clear that the right hand Shift, Ctrl and Alt don’t get used, whereas the left Shift is worn through contact with my fingernail. (Well, the machine is 18 months old…)

              I spent some time using a Spanish keyboard (AZERTY) several years ago and continued to use the keymap for a while even after switching back to a UK (QWERTY) layout.

    1. Visualizing things to store them in short term memory is a great idea. When I had to study for tests, I would rewrite a few sheets of paper with the key points for the test and after enough review I could “see” my notes in my head during the test as if I had them in front of me. Which feels very different from remembering the information as words, which are mentally invisible (to me, at least).

      And I’m impressed with all you 2-finger typists! I can’t look at the keyboard when I type because I’m afraid Sister Ernestine will pop up behind me and scold me. 🙂

      1. I’ve always wondered if anyone else experienced this. I knew that I was ready for an exam when I could mentally “see” the pages in my notebook. I usually didn’t remember page numbers, but I would remember the sequence that pages fell in and the location of topics on the pages. If I had to refer back to my actual notes I knew where any given page would be and where the material I needed was on that page.

        I began recopying notes at first because my handwriting was so atrocious when I rushed to keep up with the instructor’s lecture. Then I noticed it actually seemed to help with both processing and remembering material. I’d make a clean copy for my notes, and then take a tablet and rewrite each section until I didn’t need to refer back to the original anymore. It was a bit like being back in grade school — and being sent to the blackboard to write “I won’t pull Suzie’s hair again” a gazillion times — only it seemed to work better on the exams.

        1. When I was in high school, I was able to read a textbook chapter once, not study at all and pass tests. As I’ve gotten older, my memory isn’t that good anymore but the rewriting of my notes onto study sheets really worked for me in my recent college classes. Something about the physical act of rewriting plus the visual arrangement of what I need to remember is just the right combination.

          It’s so cool that you do this too. Amazing how we develop these tricks instinctively!

  7. My short term memory has always been poor: I have sometimes forgotten what I’m talking about in the middle of a sentence, and have trouble with verbal instructions. PINs and passwords also give me problems, so I have to carry notes to remind me (I don’t like to reuse the same PIN or password). And yet I can recall my NI (social security) number, bank account number and sort code, debit card number, phone numbers of a couple of school friends from 30 years ago. To remember things I use tricks like repeating them over and over — works for phone numbers and shopping lists — as well as visualisation. But the most reliable technique is simply to write things down so I don’t have to rely on my memory.

    1. Writing things down is the only failsafe. Assuming I remember to look at the note when needed, of course. I’ve been increasingly using notes, reminders and to do lists the past couple of years. Age seems to only make short term memory worse. :-/

  8. Still remember when I first learned about the cocktail party effect, where people apparently can filter out noise to focus on the one stimulus. I still don’t understand that 🙂

  9. Working memory is atrocious. I always hated tutoring one of my sibs for that reason – ADHD means also poor working memory. Sooo she’d have to ask a question right away or else she’d forget about it, and I’d have to finish my explanation right away or else I’d forget where I was. Kinda disastrous and usually ended with us shouting at each other. “I don’t understand! You’re a bad teacher!” “If you’d let me finish, it would make more sense!”

    Yeah. >.>

  10. Thanks for your executive function series.

    Your series helped me join together a lot of things I have noticed about me these latest years (and in true executive function fail form, noticed several times and yet failed to join together, because I have never written them down):

    – very poor working (short-term) memory (everybody knows this about me), compensated by a good long-term one, or at school/university compensated by writing/rewriting notes until my brain memorized how things looked like in the page and/or how they were related as a graph. Writing things down helps, though not always, and having a routine for repetitive procedures helps.
    – difficulty filtering environment distractions. Not as severe as people diagnosed with autism seem to have, but it’s still hard. A colleague recently found my kryptonite: people jabbering on unimportant issues with no pauses while I’m trying to do something I know perfectly well how to do. He did precisely that (jabber) and I became completely unable to do something which is easy for me and I am experienced at doing. Fortunately, he realized that, commented on the fact, which he found funny, and stopped doing it. My experience inside my head before he stopped jabbering was very strange: I stopped being able to think. Then silence and I resumed thinking.
    – cognitive flexibility: I have some, but there are specific areas where I seem to have impairments. I adapt well to changes in my environment, and changes in things my brain classifies as “irrelevant” are perfectly fine for me. However, I have a hard time with other changes in specific work routines/tools or changes in what I had planned to do at home. Even positive changes. I recognize a specific tool is better and yet take a few days/weeks until I start using it at work. I need time to adapt to some things. Others are instantaneous.
    – task switching: ok if minor (switching between work/home/social tasks), hard if major (switching between a work task and a social task is hard and takes time, I instinctively created routines to switch modes: arrive to work, have coffee, bam, switched to work mode. Go to bus, play on mobile phone, bam, switched to home mode.).
    – initiation: The previous one seems to be related to initiation of actions as well. I still believe i am lazy, but the truth is I have a hard time initiating even things I like. and then I am fully in doing mode and I am not lazy after all.
    – problem solving: I am either terrible or very very good at it. It’s one of my strengths at work, which is why it’s so odd when sometimes i simply do not see that a problem exists. But as soon as I see it, I go into obstinate mode until I solve it (and this was considered to be another of my strengths).
    – attention: as you may have guessed by now, another of my weaknesses. It’s not just sensory input. It’s my own brain that has a lot of different lines of thought at once and it’s hard to filter. I am known for being inattentive. I compensate by writing, asking people to repeat, and funnily enough, sometimes, when I am not too inattentive, by remembering conversations after a while and then parsing what I heard.
    – somewhat poor inhibition: I infodump, I say innapropriate(not too innapropriate)/strange things, on the other hand I am actually quite emotionally inhibited. I seem to be a bit extreme: a few jobs ago I was very verbally inhibited: nobody was strange there so I was very quiet because I am the kind of person who says strange things. I can inhibit these things, but it takes a lot of energy and nowadays I don’t because I like my job and it’s demanding on my attention, so I need to save my energy for that.

    I am lucky that I am at a place where lots of strange people (engineers 😉 ) work in a demanding job, so people accept some weirdness, and I am lucky that the person assigned to my training was able to see that while at first my evolution was slow and even made him angry because of my distractions and illogical decisions at first (I am not good while I haven’t got a decent “big picture”) then I started to understand things and suddenly I was good at what I do. I have been like that ever since I got to university: at first I seem not to understand anything, then things start clicking and I become good at what I do. I went from being considered to have a “slow evolution which was starting to show signs of improvement” to having an “exceptional evolution”. I am good worker. I just evolve differently. I have a really hard time at first, then everything clicks into place and I have created strategies.

    So, again, thanks. This has helped me make sense of lots of things.

    1. You make a great point about relevancy in adapting to change. I hadn’t considered that but I experience it too.

      Obstinate mode! I think I was born in this mode. I refuse to be defeated by problems, to the point of ridiculousness sometimes.

      I think the learning curve you describe is very typical of people with EF impairment (both the ASD kind and the ADHD kind). We need a little more time to reach critical mass, but once we do, we’re good.

  11. Nice post! I said before that I don’t have any reservations about my verbal reason ability, but reading this made me realize one thing–sometimes I can’t comprehend what people are saying at all even though I’m listening, and I have to repeat what they just said slowly, word-by-word. Generally I’ll start understanding then and either say so, or they’ll explain more, but sometimes it goes on for a while where I have to repeat like that. Never really thought about what causes it.

    Ah, working memory! Again, I have a lot of those problems like forgetting what I’m doing, ending up somewhere and having to talk to myself to remember why I went there (if I remember there’s something to remember instead of just doing something else), and I’m absolutely awful at navigating video games, to the point where I sometimes just can’t play them. However, I’m at least average at remembering numbers (although inconsistent) and don’t notice any work-related working memory problems (other than forgetting things that were just brought up in conversations).

    1. What you describe about not understanding what someone is saying at first might be related to Central Auditory Processing Delay, which is really common in people on the spectrum. I experience it mostly in noisy settings or situations where I can’t see the person’s lips.

  12. “This is why having a quiet, distraction-free environment seems to work miracles when it comes to productivity and focus.”, but surely this is true of almost everybody – special needs kids are just a bit more dependent on it than the dominant group.

    What I don’t understand is how it ever became acceptable to run classrooms in a noisy chaotic hyper-social way that that makes actually studying so hard. Why are classrooms cluttered with loudly coloured distracting posters, why do teachers think it rational to jump around chapters and between textbooks as if they thought the authors were less competent than themselves ? There is so much about typical teaching practice that seems obviously counter-productive and there to entertain the teacher, rather than to allow pupils to learn.

    In fact the system seems to be setup to excoriate anybody who fails to keep within the modal group – so will always label 10-20% as failing regardless of what is being taught. Add to that, that most learning has sequential dependency – if you fall behind or fail to master one topic, this makes subsequent topics harder or impossible to learn.

    It seems our current education system (similar in both the UK & US) is engineered to manufacture disability from normal variation in abilities.

  13. Funny irony though about distractions. There are certainly stimuli that heavily distract me. I’m a notorious people watcher for example. Eavesdropping? …. sometimes. But then, there is nothing like music to actually help me focus. This is not limited to ambient / new age / classical. This also includes – punk, new wave, metal, thrash, etc. Even played really, really loud. As an older child a sure sign I was doing my homework was that I had my Kenwood AMP cranked at 7 … or more!

  14. My son is an aspie and up until yesterday I had no idea EFD even existed, which makes me so sad because the signs are like his own personal checklist. What I’d like are ways to help him – he’s 12 and work at school is stepping up in pace, so I need a way to help him cope. Do you have any posts you’ve written which have pointers about this subject – how he can structure his schoolwork that we can use at home? I am sending your PDF presentation links to his teacher tomorrow because I think so much will make sense to her and explain why my son is as he is with regards to school work. Thank you!

  15. Funny you should mention working memory. Mine is bad at the best of times. I am always having to make lists (to-do, shopping etc.).
    I often randomly come up with something I want to learn more about (read look up on the Internet) and unless I write it down right then and there, it’s gone a minute later. And when I am programming, there comes a point where scrolling through pages of code doesn’t work for me. I have to get a printout of where I’ve got to so I can peruse and figure out the next bit easily on paper (with pen handy).

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