autism and executive function:
what you need to know

By Molly Stackhouse

Executive functions are a set of cognitive skills that allow us to plan, organize, and execute tasks. They are essential for our everyday functioning, helping us to set goals, manage our time, and stay focused. People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have difficulty with executive functions. This can be due to a number of factors, including differences in brain development and communication.


Planning and organizing: People with ASD may have difficulty planning and organizing tasks. They may find it difficult to break down tasks into smaller steps, to set priorities, or to stay on task.

Attention and focus: People with ASD may have difficulty paying attention and staying focused. They may be easily distracted by noise, movement, or other stimuli.

Working memory: People with ASD may have difficulty holding information in their working memory. This can make it difficult to follow instructions, learn new information, or solve problems.

Flexibility: People with ASD may have difficulty being flexible and adapting to change. They may prefer to stick to routines and may have difficulty adjusting to new situations.

These challenges can make it difficult for people with ASD to succeed in school, work, and relationships. However, there are a number of things that can be done to help improve executive function skills.


Visual aids: Visual aids can help people with ASD to stay organized and to track their progress. This could include using calendars, checklists, or other visual tools.

Chunking tasks: Chunking tasks down into smaller steps can make them seem less daunting and more manageable. This could involve breaking down a large project into smaller tasks or breaking down a long-term goal into smaller steps.

Timers: Timers can help people with ASD to stay on task and to avoid getting sidetracked. This could involve setting a timer for a specific task or setting a timer for breaks. Visual timers can be a great resource!

Structure and routine: Providing structure and routine can help people with ASD to feel more comfortable and to know what to expect. This could involve creating a daily schedule or establishing a regular routine for certain activities.

Social skills training: Social skills training can help people with ASD to learn how to interact with others more effectively. This could involve learning how to take turns, how to listen, or how to express their emotions in a socially appropriate way. Southern Maryland Mental Health clinicians are here to help! Schedule a free consult today!

If you are concerned that your child or someone you know may have difficulty with executive functions, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. They can assess your symptoms and recommend treatment options. 

There is help available for people with executive function challenges. With the right support, people with ASD can learn how to manage their symptoms and improve their everyday functioning. If you are interested in learning more schedule an appointment with Southern Maryland Mental Health and consult with one of our clinicians today!

Molly Stackhouse is a therapist located in Calvert County, Maryland.  She owns a private practice located in Southern Maryland where she specializes in working with adolescents adults who experience panic attacks. Additionally, she has a strong understanding of the different types of trauma and the different ways that people respond to trauma. She uses a variety of therapeutic approaches, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and brainspotting. Additionally, she is a nationally certified school psychologist. If you are interested in services, use the link here
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