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Autism/Executive functioning assistance and investigation


...this question is very dear to me so if you can please answer informatively and with care

With a late 'diagnosis' of 'difficulties in executive functioning' (twenties) I want to know what services/support if any are available in helping an adult manage these difficulties and how that adult may access that support.

Also is 'difficulties in executive functioning' usually indicative of a cognitive disorder (or health issue), if yes what steps would an adult have to take to investigate further/find out what it is?

Good morning Aia,

Executive functioning refers to a set of skills that have their seat in the frontal lobes of the brain (behind your forehead). Think of a CEO of a large corporation. That person must determine priorities, decide who does what and when - the order in which things must be done. He'll set timelines and goals and keep the company focused, without diverging down side pathways. Those are similar to executive functioning skills.

People with executive functioning weaknesses tend to have difficulty organizing themselves. While they may begin with good intentions, they could become distracted and leave off the initial task. Or, they could feel overwhelmed with the breadth of a task, not knowing how to break it down into manageable pieces. They may be forgetful. They may have a poor sense of time, being often late, missing deadlines, and important dates, etc. Managing money may be a problem. In children, weak executive functioning skills hinder school performance. In adults, the difficulty can show up in the workplace, personal finances and relationships with other people.

People on the autism spectrum, including those with Asperger's generally have some difficulty with executive functioning skills. But, this is not unique to autism; most people who have attention deficit, learning disabilities, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc. also have weaknesses in this area.

I use the term "weaknesses" on purpose. That means that you have a weak area, making some things harder than they might be for other people - hard but not impossible. And, just as with any other skill, you can improve. If you begin learning to play the saxophone, it will be difficult for you at first but with time and practice you will get better. The same is true of acquiring better executive functioning skills. Not only will you improve, but you'll learn little tricks to make it easier. Some of these tricks might be unique to you; others will be ones employed by many people automatically, but you may need to use conscious effort to gain the skill.

Technology is a boon to people with executive functioning difficulties. Today's smart phones have a wealth of apps to help us stay organized. Most come with some type of calendar feature that can beep to remind us to do certain tasks, show us the things we need to accomplish that day, where we should be, what items we might need to take along with us, etc. Other apps will allow you to talk into your phone, leaving yourself a reminder message if something occurs to you but you don't need to take care of it right then. Of course, a piece of paper can do many of these things, but scraps of paper tend to get lost. An agenda book can also work. The advantage of a smart phone or tablet is it's small size and ease of carrying with everything stored in one place.

No, difficulties in executive functioning does not represent what I think you mean by a cognitive disorder. Are you asking if this might be a life-threatening neurological problem? If that is your question, then the answer is no, it's highly unlikely. There are rare instances of tumor activity in the frontal lobes, but this would represent a change in your normal behaviour, not something you have always had.

Sometimes people refer to "cognitive disorders" as meaning intellectual disability. If that is what you are asking, then no, having executive functioning difficulties does not mean that you have a low IQ. (Although low functioning people will also have difficulties in this area, along with many other areas of independent life skills). There are many, many very bright people who have executive functioning weaknesses.

The services/support that might be available to you depend on where you live. A therapist who takes a cognitive behavior therapy approach could be helpful. Taking a course on study skills, organizational methods, etc. would also help.

But, if you do not reside in an area that has access to counselor or similar supports, you can learn a lot on your own. While many of the books on improving executive functioning skills are written for adults working with school-aged populations, the principles are the same for an adult wanting to improve these same skills. Here are some books available on Amazon that might help you and the links to take a look at them:

- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Adult ADHD

- Fast Minds

- Understanding Your Brain; Get More Done

- Four Weeks to an Organized Life

- You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?

- Coaching Students with Executive Skills Deficits

- Smart but Scattered

- Delivered from Distractions

- Answers to Distraction

Many of these books will be available through your public library. Some are available in e-book form. If you have a Kindle e-reader or the free Kindle reading app on a smart phone, tablet or any computer, you can download a free sample of the book to see if it interests you before putting out any money.


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Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell


Sharon can help with parenting and educational concerns. She has worked in teaching, special education, counseling and consulting for over thirty years and gives workshops to educators and parents on working with kids with autism spectrum disorders. Sharon speaks from both the education and parent points of view, having an adult son with Asperger's.


Sharon has spent decades as a special education consultant with a school district and autism consult for the province's Department of Education, giving workshops and individual consults. Currently she works as regional autism consultant for a health district in between teaching university classes. She is an Amazon bestselling author or a series of novels, each depicting a child who has an autism spectrum disorder. Sharon's Master's thesis looked at the long-term outlook for persons with high functioning autism and Asperger's. Her Doctorate focused on strategies to help those with autism spectrum disorders.

Website at and sits on Autism Today's Panel of Experts (

Author of "Autism Goes to School" - a novel about autism that that became an Amazon bestseller. Get this Amazon bestseller free at In the next book, Autism Runs Away, Ethan is only in grade one and already has been kicked out of one school due to his tantrums and pattern of running away when in a panic. Now in a new school his mom remains glued to her phone, waiting for the call to tell her that they don’t know what to do with a child who has autism. Sara is about to learn if this new school is up to the challenge. ( Autism Belongs is the 3rd book. Manny's life has shrank to the confines of their house. His parents are desperate not to rock his world because the aggression has gotten to much worse. Where will this lead? Is there a chance that Manny could actually belong out in the world? You bet! Get a free sample at Book four, Autism Talks and Talks, is about a 12 year old girl who has Asperger's. She's bright, inquisitive, highly verbal, but lacks social skills. Try a free sample at Book five, Autism Grows Up features Suzie, a bright, twenty-one year old whose life collapsed after she finished high school. Now, she lives in her mother's basement, spending nights on her computer, afraid to broach the world outside their door. Autism Grows Up is found at Prefer a boxed set? Get the first 3 books bundled together at Co-author of bestseller, The Official Autism 101 Manual (

B.A. in Psychology, B.Ed. in Special Education, M.A. in Educational Leadership PhD. in Psychology Management, specializing in autism.

Awards and Honors
B.R.A.G. Medallion for the novel Autism Goes to School - Book 1 in the School Daze Series. ( Like Autism Goes to School, the third book in the series, Autism Belongs, also ranked #1 on Amazon ( Manny is not like other children. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t leave the house. His parents desperately try to arrange their world so that Manny does not get upset. Because, when he does, well, the aggression was getting worse. At ten, Manny was becoming difficult to handle.

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