Tag Archives: problem solving

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.  Continue reading Executive Function Primer (Part 2)