Executive function (EF) is a broad term that refers to the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control and manage our thoughts and actions. It includes planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, initiation of actions and monitoring of actions.
Most people on the autism spectrum have some degree of impaired executive function. Because executive function is such a complex concept, it can be hard to understand how it impacts our lives in practical ways. The slideshow below is a very brief introduction to the components of executive function and how impairment in each area might look in a person’s day-to-day life.
If you’d like to learn about executive function in more detail, there are links to an in-depth four part series below the slide show.
The above slide show is also available as a PDF: Executive Function Summary PDF (you are welcome to share this PDF but please do not remove the link back to this page or the copyright information)
To learn more about executive function and how it relates to autism, check out this in-depth series of posts:
Executive Function Primer (Part 1): general definition of executive function with some quick examples, a detailed look at the planning function
Executive Function Primer (Part 2): The remainder of the organization functions–problem solving, verbal reasoning, working memory, and attention
Executive Function Primer (Part 3): The regulation of action functions–inhibition, initiation and monitoring
Executive Function Primer (Part 4): The final part in this series wraps up with a look at cognitive flexibility and how all of the pieces of executive function fit together