Executive Functioning Issues In Aspergers

I have mentioned the problems caused by executive functioning issues briefly in different posts but I have not yet dedicated a whole blog post to it yet so I thought I would write about that today.

I know some of you may be wondering right now “What are executive functioning issues?” Simply put, they refer to the management of various cognitive processes such as working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving and seeing a task or process through from planning to carrying it out. That’s the scientific bit over. Now what is struggling with these functions like in everyday life?

One thing I often hear said about a lot of people with Aspergers is, “They’re so intelligent but can’t do the basics”. This is essentially what problems with executive functioning cause. Someone can have an IQ of 150 plus (for what it’s worth!) and still struggle with their cooking, cleaning and laundry or forget to have a bath for 5 days in a row. Executive functioning problems are not solely the reserve of those of us on the autistic spectrum. In fact, I used to blame my issues in this area on my dypsraxia until I realised that they are probably a result of both conditions as people with Aspergers as their only diagnosis can also struggle in this area. Executive functioning problems affect a lot of people across the neurodiverse spectrum-people with dyslexia, people with dyspraxia, people with ADHD and a vast range of neurological conditions in between.

One example I will always remember (and I’m sure my mum does too!) is learning how to write a paying in slip for cashing in cheques. I must have been taught how to do it around 20 times before I actually took it in and was able to do it successfully myself. People don’t understand why tasks can take us so much longer to complete but it’s because of this functioning deficit. Filling in the paying in slip is a very simple task for most people of my age and intelligence but I just could not get it! Once I did finally get it, I never forgot how to do it even though I don’t get paid cheques anymore!

To an extent, I can understand where other people’s frustrations come from in regard to the problems executive functioning issues can cause me. As I have mentioned in this blog before, I was able to read complicated medical books at the age of 6 but I could not dress myself at the same age-not because I was physically unable to do so (although I was extremely uncoordinated) but because the sequence just wouldn’t work itself out in the right order in my head. This frustrated the people around me, I’m sure! Similarly, my weak short term memory often frustrates people especially because my long term memory is very good. People don’t understand how I can remember every word of conversations that were held years ago but can’t remember all the items I go to the shop to buy. I can say to myself right before I go into the shop that I need to get some shampoo and will walk out of the shop 2 minutes later with no shampoo! I admit that I am no saint and I sometimes become extremely annoyed with habits that are the result of poor executive functioning skills-poor time management, for example. I cannot abide lateness in either myself or other people. Similarly, I hate clutter. I am not saying that I am the most organised person ever because I’m not but I like to hide anything that makes the place look untidy!

I often get overwhelmed by tasks. When I need to do something such as tidy my room, I get overwhelmed at how enormous a task this is (I’m not untidy at all but I confess to being a bit of a hoarder, hence why a lot of my stuff lives in drawers as mentioned in the paragraph above!) I know that a lot of people with executive functioning issues find it a lot easier to break the task down into step by step bullet points, eg, “Empty bin”, “hoover”, “dust”, “polish” etc etc. I need to try this some time to see if it makes me any more motivated to have a clear out! Similarly, like a fair number of people with Aspergers, I struggle with cooking. There are just too many processes going on in cooking the average meal and trying to get the timing component right so that everything is ready at the same time is a nightmare! I can remember, at university, cooking a dinner and the vegetables were ready half an hour after the meat pie because I couldn’t work out the timings properly! It is the inability to carry out these sorts of tasks that often leave other people confused or frustrated about the person in their life with Aspergers. People often equate how well someone can do in an academic environment with what they should be able to do in daily life and, in people with a neurodiverse brain, this isn’t always the reality.

There are of course strategies that help people with these problems. Lists, visual reminders and timetables can be of great help in a lot of cases. Some people on the spectrum rely on lists for absolutely everything. I always like to think I can remember things without a list only to be reminded that I can’t! Essentially though, these processes are likely to always be impaired in someone whose brain processes information differently, whether that be because of Aspergers or another condition such as dyslexia. It is part of the way our brains are hardwired. We know that it frustrates a lot of people but please remember that it frustrates us too. I get extremely annoyed with myself for not being able to remember task based things and, to be honest, I am amazed I have managed to keep a job for as long as I have because I was sure when I was younger that I was unemployable. These problems are simply part of the condition we live with on a daily basis. We must learn to live our lives around them and not to be ashamed to seek help when we need it. Everybody needs help sometimes and just because you may be a university lecturer who struggles to complete their laundry because such tasks use a completely different area of the brain than academia, does not mean that you should be ashamed to ask for that help. We all have different skill sets-ours just mostly happen to lie in different areas!

As an aside, if there are people with Aspergers who do not have any executive functioning problems at all, I would love to hear from you. It is an area I am fascinated in and would love to compare experiences.


One Response to Executive Functioning Issues In Aspergers

  1. totally true. I can have complete mind blanks about meeting people and I have the same thing when I go in the supermarket too. That is a mind thing coz your in a different place so remember different things.

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