This is part 4 in a series about executive function. After wrapping up the discussion of regulatory functions with some thoughts about Cognitive Flexibility, it talks a bit about some models of EF and how the various pieces fit together. Looking for the other parts? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Cognitive flexibility is all about change. Changing your mind. Changing your opinion. Changing your beliefs. Coping with change. Understanding why change happens.
In a more formal sense, it’s the ability to shift your thinking or attention is in response to changes in the environment or situation (such as new rules, information, demands or goals). If you’ve ever wondered where the autistic tendency toward rigid thinking and routine comes from, this is it. Change requires cognitive flexibility. It’s not necessarily that we don’t want to do things differently. Impaired executive function makes it harder to adapt to change by forming new thought or behavior patterns.
Variation in executive function capacity can explain why one day it’s not a big deal if the bus is five minutes late or your favorite shirt is in the laundry but on another day, this kind of small disruption to routine triggers a meltdown. What appears to be a fit of irrationality is actually a failure of the prefrontal cortex to cope with change in the expected way.
Cognitive flexibility also refers to considering multiple aspects of a situation at the same time, such as seeing opposing points of view or multiple characteristics of an object. When you think about it, there is little difference between “lack of empathy” or “impaired theory of mind” and impaired cognitive flexibility. Not seeing the other person’s point of view can be as simple as having difficulty seeing multiple aspects of a situation at the same time.
Finally, cognitive flexibility includes task switching, which is sometimes listed as a separate component of executive function. Difficulties with task switching are what make it hard to stop playing World of Warcraft and start making dinner. Or to pick up where you left off on a task after being interrupted. Poor task switching is also why people will often say that autistic people are so good at doing repetitive tasks. It might be more accurate to say that we’re not very good at stopping.
Once we disassemble the various components of executive function, it becomes obvious how intertwined they are. It also sheds light on the roots of many aspects of how the autistic brain works. Suddenly, walking into furniture or struggling with change or having trouble focusing in a noisy environment have an identifiable cause–impaired executive function.
It also makes finding solutions both easier and harder. Easier because when I understand the roots of a problem, I can figure out better workarounds. Harder because seeing how everything is connected means I can’t just “learn to plan” or try harder to “pay attention.” Executive function is a complex web of issues. We can’t simply patch up the most obviously deficient parts and hope that fixes everything. In fact, once you understand how the parts of EF work together, it’s easier to see why patching one area might cause another area to “spring a leak.”
In an attempt to find an alternative to patching, I’ve been trying to get a better grasp on what executive function really is. The “control center” analogies are good for generally understanding what executive function is responsible for. But how does it actually work? What’s the underlying mechanism?
There’s the clogged funnel model of executive dysfunction. This hypothesizes that the input channels are much larger than the processing channels–like a funnel with a wide mouth and narrow spout–causing a back-up of information prior to processing. This feels like a crude analogy and doesn’t account for the fact that processing does happen and lots of information is getting through. Just not necessarily the right information. In fact, a twisty hamster Habitrail metaphor might be more accurate for what happens in my brain when it comes to information filtering.
I’ve seen executive function described as the processes that connect past experience to present action. That’s intriguing, but also feels incomplete. Impaired EF does often look like difficulties with generalizing. When something goes wrong–often an external sign of executive function failure–it’s often not a new experience, just a variation on some past disaster.
Because I have trouble generalizing from one situation to another, I won’t foresee the new mishap based on a similar one from the past. Instead of general principles, I have a set of specific rules. This could make my impaired EF look like a problem with predicting present outcomes based on past experience, but it’s not that simple.
Past experience isn’t directly involved in selective attention or filtering out sensory inputs. It doesn’t account for working memory difficulties or problems with initiation. You could argue that thinking of the negative consequences of not “getting started” is a form of connecting past and present–assuming you’ve suffered such consequences in the past–but I think only people who’ve never experienced impaired executive function would make that case.
The entire time I’ve been researching and writing this, I’ve been wracking my brain for some connecting thread that will tie all of the aspects of executive function together. The closest I’ve come is awareness. Again and again I’ll do something that results in a less than desirable outcome and then think “how did I not see that coming?” That, for me, is impaired executive function in a nutshell.
My awareness of my environment and myself seem to get randomly muted and the result is nearly always some form of executive function fail. I have difficulty filtering through the massive amounts of internal and external inputs to prioritize which ones need to be front and center. Often, once I’m aware of something, that’s all it takes to focus me on what needs to be done or not done. But bringing that key piece of information into the cognitive spotlight? That’s where the root of my executive function problems lie.
64 thoughts on “Executive Function Primer (Part 4)”
“Again and again I’ll do something that results in a less than desirable outcome and then think “how did I not see that coming?”
My favorite is when I see it coming and just accept it as inevitable instead of it occurring to me I could do something about it. Or deciding that doing something about it is too difficult or oppressive, and that it’s better to just run head first into a (metaphorical) wall.
I know what you mean. I’m getting better at spotting those situations and responding to them but it something I’ve been purposely working on for nearly a year.
“My favorite is when I see it coming and just accept it as inevitable instead of it occurring to me I could do something about it. Or deciding that doing something about it is too difficult or oppressive, and that it’s better to just run head first into a (metaphorical) wall.”
Psychologists call this learned helplessness.
Deciding which task takes precedence is also where my mind flails, and fails. An activity I am doing is often hard to stop, even though I know there are lots of others that are sometimes extremely pressing. In fact the more tasks and chores that I’m aware of, the worse I am at discerning which to tackle. Add sensory or social input and it gets messier. I retreat into just waiting – anxiously – for disaster to strike. Which it inevitably does, as so many tasks either small or very important are left partially done or undone.
This is what – for me – leads back to your article on shame, because I cannot keep up with what others accomplish.
I feel you. I have many tasks that I “forget” to do because I didn’t prioritize them. I once had my car registration revoked because I forgot to pay the insurance. I also have a difficult time stopping a task. I have a work around if you are interested?
It’s so disheartening that our cognitive challenges make us feel ashamed. I know exactly what you mean, though. My poor EF really impacts my self-care, which is an ongoing source of shame.
Does it help to use lists to try to prioritize or keep track of what you’ve accomplished? I find that to do lists are helpful, especially if I sort tasks by priority or difficulty or length of time. There’s something about writing tasks down that makes it easier for me to get a handle on them. Not that everything gets done every day, but I have a higher S uccess rate, it seems,
Me too Lucy!
“Easier because when I understand the roots of a problem, I can figure out better workarounds.” <— Makes so much sense to me: As I become aware of how my brain works, I've noticed how often I use my pattern finding skills to create a rule for a seemingly confusing situation. "So when people do this ____, I should try to ______." Sometimes I think when I've over-thinking a social scenario, it's because I don't have an established protocol for dealing with it. Also, I'm finding the more examples I have, the more likely I am to understand a novel concept (maybe makes generalizability a bit easier).
Yes, yes, yes to all of this! Especially having lots of examples to draw on making generalizing easier.
Sg – Work around would be much appreciated. (In fact I’m compiling a list today as there are some big problems looming.)
I have a spot in which I keep a digital timer, paper and a stim prop.
A stim prop is an object that helps you, I don’t know, focus, relax, remember, forget? It kind of puts everything in place. I call it a stim prop because it’s an object with which I replaced a stim. I used to tap my teeth with my fingernail; I replaced that with tapping my teeth with a pencil and eventually got it down to just holding a pencil. My sister doodles, I had a prof that bounced small balls before class, many people carry coffee/tea mugs around.
The timer should be the type that will reset with a touch of a button. The paper is to narrow down the list of tasks/problems/ideas. Pick two or three of your tasks, write them down and put the master list somewhere else.
I set the timer for 15 minutes and work on one of the tasks. When the timer rings I pick up my prop, reset the timer, and start the next task. Sometimes I can switch without thinking, other times I can’t. If I get stuck in the transition, if I just can’t seem start the next task, if I get to anxious, if I get sidetracked by a cat, it’s all okay. The timer is set for 15 minutes. When the timer buzzes I just move on to the task I was supposed to do. I go back and forth between the two tasks until one of them is done.
I discovered this method accidentally before I even knew Aspergers existed. I used to loose track of time doing math homework. I was okay in college, but when I started grad school, all of my classes were math. I started using the timer to stop. Eventually I learned that I can apply the same method to paying bills, washing dishes, day dreaming, planning, eating, exercising, laundry, etc. I can’t figure out how to apply it to shopping yet.
I’ve copied and saved that; going to try it now. It’ll be interesting and great to make headway on my goals. 🙂 🙂 Thanks to Musings for bringing this all more into the light, and thanks Sg.
Hi Lucy. How are you doing with managing your list of problem?
This is a little different than this specific post but ties in with executive functioning…I can not cook or drive well- some of it I think is due to executive functioning and the rest perhaps Dyspraxia with my Autism but it really hampers my life. So many people have tried to “teach me” thinking if I just “practice more” But it’s been more than a decade and even toast seems like a feat. I cut, burn and hurt myself with food prep, I ruin cooking utensils ( my husband tells me to stay out of his kitchen:) My meals turn out horrid despite that I follow the recipe with diligence and even grocery shopping or picking something out of the fridge freezes my brain. Yet I score high on IQ tests and emotional intuition and seem perfectly capable..so it bugs people that I can not cook or drive ( I have had too many little accidents even though I am very cautious.) They think I am being lazy or making excuses. How can I present this in a matter that will make sense? Do you have this issue? Can you direct me to a link or someone who does?
I have the exact same issues with cooking and driving! I’ll be watching this post to see if you get any answers. Thanks!
This definitely sounds like a mix of EF and dyspraxia. I am a disaster in the kitchen. I can produce a decent (and sometimes even quite good) meal, but I make a big mess. And I break stuff. My husband knows that if he hears cursing from the kitchen, he should bring the vacuum. And maybe bandaids.
I think the simplest way to explain it to others is to use phases like poor fine motor coordination difficulties with, spatial relationships (driving) and other common phrases. Unless The person is willing to learn about dyspraxia and executive function impairment (it sounds like you struggle a lot with planning-type tasks, especially motor planning).
I was wondering which area it would apply to. That makes sense. IF they are willing to learn about dyspraxia or executive functioning impairment what should I start them with. What is a good primer of NTS without a lot of Aspie lingo? Or a metaphor they could get? My mother, sister, good friends and in laws would be willing to read something short and explanatory. Do you have a post like this in your archives? I find your writing is clear and pointed…:)
Oh – I break stuff too…the other day I broke our beaters…the cake dough was so tough that it caused them to beat into each other and snap part of the top of the beater off…crazy scary but also funny afterwards.
I realize you did just write an excellent four part series…I don’t think they would get that as much…or be willing to read four parts. I find that most of those around me are not readers or they prefer a mental picture they can relate to…I just wanted to clarify that I did greatly love this four part series!
I know, it’s a lot to read, especially for someone who is only maybe a tiny bit interested in learning about it. What if you used the key points here that you relate to most to make a sort of powerpoint presentation or something more visual to share? Or hmmm, I’m not sure. This feels like such a huge subject and boiling it down to something that can be quickly grasped is hard. Let me give it some thought. I’m going to make a page of links for the four parts of the series, so maybe I can put a few summary paragraphs there that would make a “executive summary” for people who just need the highlights.
Great! Thanks. Power point is also a good idea…I may give more thought to it too:) I will look back for the links later! Thanks!
Maybe a Prezi (http://prezi.com/) or a flowchart or mindmap? I feel like visualizing how a task ‘looks’ to you, based on the concepts in these articles, might help someone outside understand. Like, a flowchart that shows how an NT might encounter a task (feel need to switch task, switch task) vs. one that includes EF interference (feel need to switch task, EF delay, failure to switch task or, like completing task, sensory overload kicks in, stim to improve concentration/EF function, continue task)
I thought the 4 part was awesome and very much needed! I cannot believe how much of myself I see in every part. I have lots of “things” floating around my mind in response to each article that I simply cant comment on each. I’m shell shocked at other revelations these posts have exposed in my life. In fact, I’ve been reading your stuff for a year off and on. Mainly when I suspected i was on the Spectrum. I devoured your book and eventually received a professional diagnosis. I cant get over how different yet the same we aspies are. Your blog is an asset for us on the spectrum and I am grateful to have found it. Thank you for your hard work!
I’m a pretty good cook, but I keep my band-aids, scissors, iodine, and gauze in the kitchen drawer. That should tell you something.
This is a long shot, its been several years.. but this reminded me so much of my teenager (they/them) who is going through a protracted diagnosis period, questioning ASD. They always score highly in the same areas, but just disintegrate with simplest tasks sometimes, while at other times they can tune in and focus for fairly big collaborative projects. It is impossible to explain to providers, who are looking at a kid who seems so capable, and I as a parent keep flip flopping about how much support is the right amount.. And of course, they are excited to learn to drive and want to explore independence, it’s nerve-wracking and at the same time I want to encourage them to reach as far as they can and want to.
Anyhow, it would be really great to connect and hear what your experience is like if you were open to that and if this makes it to you.
With each of these posts I feel like you’re summing up my life. I need to share all four of these posts with my therapist. In our sessions, I often mention EF difficulties, but since that’s not part of ASD’s official criteria, I feel like she’s not always totally believing or getting me.
Cognitive flexibility issues is why I was a ranting raving monster yesterday after my grad school interview went completely opposite from what I was planning/expecting. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but I had worked hard to prepare myself for one thing, and I encountered something entirely different. I spent the rest of the day making random flailing outbursts. Not very fun. Or attractive.
Thanks so much for writing this series. It has really helped me a lot and i hope that it’ll help other people too…especially NT’s who don’t know what the heck we’re talking about when we mention EF impairments.
It’s very strange that EF difficulties aren’t part of the diagnostic criteria because we all have them and I think they actually “cause” a lot of the traits that are part of the criteria.
I hope the outcome of your interview is okay. It’s so hard being prepared for one thing and getting confronted with something totally different. Especially when it’s as high stakes as a entrance interview.
I totally agree that EF difficulties should be part of the criteria and also agree that they cause a lot of traits that are part of criteria. It explains so many things. I think this is just another example of how far behind most of the “autism professionals” really are. Sad, really.
And thanks. ❤ I hope so too. I need to contact one of the professors in the program that I have a connection with to get some advice on how to proceed now. It looks like I'm being confronted with a lot of graduate school politics, and I'm sh*t at dealing with stuff like that. No clue how to navigate it. So hopefully I can get some good advice.
Thank you for this post, it’s good to know I’m not the only one.
when i was a teen, on a school trip, the teacher said to stop walking. but we’ve been walking for so long that i had a problem with that. i forced myself to stop walking by sheer willpower. i used to walk all day without stopping. i get hooked on something and find it hard to tear myself away.
i had to learn to see the other person’s viewpoint myself. and yes, not being able to see the other person’s point of view can lead to lack of empathy and selfishness. i wasnt always reasonable and had to face that later, when looking at the situation from a distance. i felt horrible about it. but you learn from your mistakes.
thank you for raising this interesting point, not being able to see the other person’s point of view. you concentrate on the inconvenience someone else is causing you and dont care about the other person’s feeling. this is exactly what some nts do when an autistic child gets a meltdown in public. they hear only their discomfort about the noise, and not give a second thought to how the child might be feeling. he must be feeling awful, terrified, frustrated, and unable to voice his emotions. no one should do this, nt or on the spectrum.
I totally understand this. I’ve found myself doing physical tasks that become obsessive in nature and nearly impossible to stop. It’s kind of like a stim at that point, isn’t it?
And yes, not being able to see the other person’s POV is something we all fall prey to at times. I think it’s especially obvious when the two people have different neurologies because it’s no easier for an NT to imagine being autistic than the other way around.
I wind up perpetually upset when I can hear a child having a meltdown nearby, because most young children’s shrieking is akin to my personal hell – it triggers every NO NO NO reflex I have. But on the other hand, I’ve gotten to a place where I can say “What if they’re autistic too? And having a meltdown, not just a bratty temper tantrum?” And I try to deal with the noise, but I can’t always, and sometimes the cycle leads ME to have a meltdown. Sigh.
Crying children are hard to be around, especially when they belong to someone else. Reframing the problem as “maybe they’re having a meltdown” does make sound more understandable but I’m with you. Often the only good option is to try to block out the noise or escape,
I find daily meditation helps me deal with the crying baby or whining co-worker problem. I still refuse tables near young children in restaurants.
wow this describes my Hubby really well.
Thank you for sharing
Glad you could relate!
About cognitive flexibility: YES. In some situations though it can and does help! I agree about awareness; I think that’s why my coping strategy is to have some kind of noise while doing tasks (only, it has to be noise I made myself, like if I were talking to myself or typing on my computer, not noise made by other people!). The sounds reminds me where I am and what I’m doing. It’s almost meditative.
That’s interesting about the noise helping you stay present. I talk to myself a lot when I’m doing something new or complicated, which definitely helps with processing and monitoring.
Cynthia, it’s one thing to read about executive functioning in a textbook, but quite another to read about how executive functioning challenges are part of your everyday life. I’ve been using a system online that helps me prioritize my daily tasks. Do you do any sort of prioritizing or planning for your day or for your business? I’m curious. Thanks, also, for sharing about cognitive flexibility – very helpful.
I’m glad you found the series helpful. I’ve always used a daily planner of some sort. I used to use a paper diary style calendar for planning. Now I use online tools like google’s calendar, gtasks and Todoist to plan and organize. I don’t think I could manage without some sort of written organizational system.
What online system do you use? I haven’t figured out anything that works for me . .
If you’ve never heard of Sidetracked Home Executives, google ’em. They are using a planner system these days, last I heard, but I have their original book that explains the use of a 3×5 card tickler file to help you organize everything you’re supposed to do from day to day. If you can get far enough to set up your system, that’s 2/3rds of the battle. IF I am following mine, I get a ridiculous amount of stuff done. Setting up the system and remembering to follow it are my big problems. 😦 It’s like having someone to tell me what to do, which was a big help to me as a kid and during my time in the Army afterward, which of course I don’t have that in my life now. Even the other adult in my household fails on executive functioning and I am pretty much on my own.
Flylady takes care of setting up the ‘card system’ and reminding you to follow it.
Getting a system set up is the worst. I think that’s why I stuck with a paper dayplanner for so long before switching to computer based organizing systems.
For me I’d leave task switching as separate from cognitive flexibility… definitely no good at task switching, definitely good at seeing different perspectives. I love this series of posts, but in many ways it’s given me more questions than answers. I like how you emphasize that the same capacity might be present at one moment but not the next. But actually, it makes a lot of sense that the things I’m good or bad at in executive function are a large part of what make me different from and similar to “normal” autistics and “normal” allistics (and “normal” individuals with ADHD). Some of the multiple perspectives I often hold at the same time correspond to an autistic and an allistic way of looking at a social practice.
Thanks for your blog and how you present the topics, it is good to see mature insightful reasoning on such a broad range of topics that affect people on the Autistic spectrum, esp. like myself a mature person (in years) just coming to the realisation of certain things after years of ‘weirdness’, in others opinion.
“Again and again I’ll do something that results in a less than desirable outcome and then think “how did I not see that coming?””
Do you think this could be expressed as behaviour of a strict rule based system?
Generally I tend to create rules for an activity, that I adhere to, this creates stability and predictability. Hence by the rules I should be successful. When it goes wrong, I analyse and add some more rules. But if I think that the failure was an exception or logically I cannot see it, I do not seem to adjust my method.
So I make the same mistake if the same problem occurs, but then I realise it needs a new rule. Which is OK for things not involving irrational NT’s. Then its an ongoing problem.
Thank you for the kind words. I think that having a rules-based system does make me more susceptible to being surprised by a foreseeable outcome. I have a lot of difficulty generalizing from an experience to a similar but not exactly the same possible future outcome.
The shared similarities that you talk about in relation to autism and my experience with ADHD are immense! I am new to actually realizing my ADD (as an adult) and the impact it has in every aspect of my life. A little background on me: adult female who escaped diagnosis for the last 30-odd years because I fall into an underdiagnosed population: female –> primarily inattentive –> gifted with good grades throughout (grade school, high school, undergrad, grad) –> (and now) adult. I completely relate to your readers who know they are smart but don’t often feel smart because we both fail at what we believe to be the basics: folding laundry, paying bills on time, brushing our teeth regularly, etc AND never seem to be successful in any job/career.
side note: I just ran across some articles looking at the differences between EFD (executive function disorder) and ADHD. might be worth a look for some people who don’t think they fit any niche.
It seems obvious (now) upon reading your articles that it’s our shared executive functioning uniqueness which impacts all aspects of our life sensory sensitivity, initiation, activation, emotional “regulation”, etc.
You wrote “The entire time I’ve been researching and writing this, I’ve been wracking my brain for some connecting thread that will tie all of the aspects of executive function together.” This comment made me want to share from a book I’m currently reading, “Smart but Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD,” by Thomas E. Brown (a leading ADHD researcher at Yale). I’m only on page 39 but I highly recommend it as a read. The thread I think you’re looking for is emotions.
*Emotions and Information Processing*
“We must recognize the critical role of emotions, both positive and negative, in initiating and prioritizing tasks, sustaining or shifting interest and effort, holding thoughts in active memory, and choosing to engage in or avoid a task or situation.” (Brown, 3)
“As was observed by neuroscientist Kenneth Dodge, “All information processing is emotional…emotion is the energy level that drives, organizes, amplifies and attenuates cognitive activity.”” (Brown, 3)
Emotion relates to our (ADDer and I would argue, also autism spectrum’ers) chronic EF issues, specifically the ability to focus very well on some tasks but on others, not at all.
A major problem with us ADDers is interest. Hell yes, if I’m interested I can do it! If I’m not, well…..
*Emotions and Interest*
“Most of us may not think of interest as an emotion but it is in fact a critically important positive emotion….Interest reflects the degree of a person’s motivation and emotional engagement with a task or relationship.” (Brown, 13)
“This book….is about the multiple and subtle ways in which problems with emotion underlie chronic difficulties in all six clusters of EF.” (Brown, 16)
Our working memory impairments (1) confound our ability to process emotions allowing “a momentary emotion to become too strong; the person is flooded with one emotion and unable to attend to other [pieces] relevant to the immediate situation.” (Brown, 29) And (2), leave us with insufficient sensitivity to a particular emotion in a situation. (Brown, 29) ex) Parphrasing from the book AND my personal experience — As I progressively hit snooze, dilly dally, read the news, play a game etc. my working memory impairment doesn’t protect me recalling the (repeated) discussions/warnings my boss has had with me about my ‘timeliness’ at work. And so I fa la la la la along and suffer repeated confusion and surprise at his upsetness when I walk in after the mandated time.
Tools I’ve recently been finding useful:
— TeamViz, as a new method of trying out the pomodoro technique
–any.do and it’s calendar counterpart (available as android/apple apps, chrome app, web browser extension, etc). these two apps are amazing because they track your tasks in a non-overwhelming way, prompt you regularly to take action or snooze the task, and provide scheduled “planning moments” within your day.
If I ever get around to writing/blogging about my own experience along with some of my discoveries, I’ll be sure to share it! As it is, I’ve spent the last 45 (? — you see, time has no real meaning to me) minutes writing this because of my extreme interest, thus forgetting to take my next stimulant dose, and thus not progressing at all in my real current need: a job search. Because, I too am smart but stuck and recently resigned my last place of underemployment because of the realization that my worth would never be seen beyond my inability to clock-in by 9:00am and not a minute later.
The information that you shared about the relationship between EF and emotion is interesting. I can see the connection between interest and emotion but my experience with intense interests feels more intellectually driven, whereas my ADHD husband’s interests seem to be more emotion (passion) driven. I’m going to suggest this book to him, if he hasn’t already seen it. Thank you for the recommendation and background. There is definitely overlap between the executive function difficulties in ADHD and autism.
I would agree about the “intellectually driven” experience. Interests do not generate a conscious emotional response. I have noted this throughout my life, I can get engaged in something, focused intensely on it, but no feelings I am aware of, either way about the subject.
Thank you for.the reply. I understand more the distinction you are describing . In not discussing my framework of EF, I left much out.
I was trying to approach a broader consideration of the term “emotion,” outside of it’s typical use, using the term so as to encompass both passion and intellect driven pursuits. This came to me from the quote by Kenneth Dodge that “ALL information processing is emotional…[that] emotion is the energy level that drives, organizes, amplifies and attenuates cognitive activity.”
I was inelegantly pointing to a linking piece of cognitive flexibility and EF. I realize though that didnt mention that I also use Brown’s model of EF. Instead of two groups of actions — planning and regulation, he breaks it into six.
each group represents a cluster of cognitive functions and may interact dynamically to perform a task. The book also discusses that the problem with emotions, per dodge’s definition, underlies chronic difficulties in all six EF clusters.
1. activation: organizing, prioritizing amd activating to work.
2. focus: focusing, sustaining amd shifting attention to tasks.
3. effort: regulating alertness, sustaining effort and processing speed.
4. emotion: managing frustration amd modulating emotions
5. memory: utilizing working memory and accessing recall.
6. action: monitoring and self regulating action.
That’s a really interesting breakdown of executive functioning areas. Thank you for explaining it.
I don’t think it was your explanation of the emotional components of EF so much as my alexithymia that colored my answer. I have a fairly high level of emotional dysfunction so for me anything based around emotion tends to be difficult to grasp or relate to. But I’m glad you shared this as others might relate strongly.
From someone on the spectrum I disagree with “the quote by Kenneth Dodge that “ALL information processing is emotional”. And also Brown’s model. The reason I say this is because the EF difficulties I have experienced through my life that I have to some extent overcome or diminished the dysfunction, I did so by the use of intellect, reason etc. and not by any sense of emotion. In fact the emotional content of experiences has a negative effect of the ability to control the EF. Therefore to have less dysfunction or one could say have a better Executive Function, especially in respect to handling information is to have less emotion attached to the experience. But to think of things in a calm, dry, detatched, nothing sort of way.
But this is only my experience.
Thank you for an excellent series of posts on EF. Great stuff!
As I know its executive disfunction why can’t I just learn it! I have read so much on it and understand why I can’t do these things but nothing about how to fix it. Everyone round me gets it and picks things up instinctively.I have a high I.q so why am I so stupid.
I cannot thank you enough for this series, for the whole blog. At 39, I’m in the process of self diagnosing, and reading so much more about what I have suspected – that I am autistic. I have defined issues like those you describe as failings for so long. Beginning the process of accepting that it’s just how I am is extremely liberating. I always have a notebook, filled with lists and priorities and notes and reiterations of the lists and reiterations of the reiterations of the lists. I thought this made me a bit hopeless at life. It is very nice to think it doesn’t, it’s just a EF hack. 🙂
I have always had trouble doing things. I thought it was a kind of fear that prevented me moving into action. I’m a very still person. I once handed in an essay a year late.
I was diagnosed with ADD and executive dysfunction, as an adult, about ten years ago. Nobody, however, -explained- what either actually meant and what to do with the new words handed to me. Thank you for the explanation, really and truly. Now I understand a bit more about -why- I was given the diagnosis. Thank you.
Wow, this was a really good article! I have read a lot about Asperger and related stuff over the last 15yrs, and this is maybe the best blog I have found. Very good writing style (honed talent!) and common sense advice imo!
Motivation is one of the biggest items people with AS have I believe. We are to motivated to do our special interests, and very hard to be motivated to do anything else. But I don´t think you used the word motivation a whole lot in this article!? 😉 However, EF components explains these symptoms very accurately!
I searched but you don´t seem to have an article on TOM. That´s the other big one …
Cthanks for this, it’s helped me to nderstand hoe EF works. I wonder, do you think a poor executive function would explain why I can’t get better at job interviews? I wondered if a poor working memory makes it difficult for me to answer competency based questions well. Although all the interviews follow the same format, the questions differ slightly, are ambiguous and I don’t seem to be able to apply lessons learned. There is too much to process in an interview
Thanks! This was all really really good. This helped explain EF to me. I knew of it as a concept but the textbook definition just bounced off my brain. My journey into knowing I have autism is still relatively new and this topic was something I needed to delve into. 🙂