Advice & Resources, Autism Insights, My Journey

What is Executive Functioning?

Good question, and to answer I’ll share that up until this point I hadn’t really considered it as thoroughly myself, but as things started to pile on my plate again, be it assignment deadlines, commitments, personal projects or important tasks, I sensed once more that my ability to figure out where to start or how to organize what I needed to do without getting totally overwhelmed was amounting to something more. More than that I could sense the all too familiar feeling of seeing the information right in front of me, yet found myself getting lost in it, and started to panic. Suddenly, in taking all this in, the word “executive functioning” popped back into my brain.

Could it be? I thought to myself that this relatively new term to me, defined as “a set of mental skills that includes working memory, flexible thinking, and self control” are of course part of my experience, but as I read as well in being Autistic one of the things that individuals on the spectrum struggle with as well. My guess is that it could very well be, and as with many other experiences in understanding previously it just happen to be one of those ones I casually brushed off. You know, chalking it up to stress or keeping too much in my memory, but even still I found it hard to brush off the feeling, that there was something more to the way I experienced it, especially after further research. Where words like “information overload” and working memory rung a familiar enough bell that explain both how I do get overwhelmed at times by too much information or why I often panic and feel there’s an immediacy to doing tasks that don’t have a clear outline or timeline because my working memory might forget within the next minute.

The Understanding and New Awareness:

Just getting this far into understanding has helped take away some of the frustration around why these tasks or experiences have been a challenge for me in the past and allowed me to start to foster the self-awareness that’s always empowered me to look into solutions, to continue to learn and in this case ask “could this be me?” It’s been validating to realize that all along there’s been a term for this challenge and within it, quite doable solutions that can help me better work around it, like learning to write things down in an ongoing list, set reminders on my iPhone, time tasks that have no time limit and break down instructions part by part, but most importantly I’ve learned that it wasn’t just me making it up- as sometimes you feel when first discovering this things for yourself and beginning to dig a little deeper- but it relates back to my Autistic wiring. It seemed that every attempt at investigating this on my own wasn’t all for nothing, and that in many things my persistence to figure out the answers and actually ask my therapist this time for help, not only led my suspicions to be right but lift the weight I felt about questioning why the struggle.

The lesson in this experience is sometimes you are right. Sometimes there’s more to your hunch than meets the eye, a hidden awareness just out of sight that could connect you to why something might be challenging. So ask for clarification, do some research, but most of all trust your own gut.