You may have heard of the saying, “when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Executive functioning difficulties and Autism Spectrum Disorders often go hand in hand, however not all children with ASD will struggle in the same EF areas to the same degree. If a child is seeing a psychologist, it may be worthwhile connecting with them to find out more information about which area the child needs the greater support. The following tips may help within therapy as well as in the classroom:

Emotional Control

This can look like difficulty waiting for a turn, getting frustrated easily, off task behaviours, overreaction to the smallest things (e.g. not being first), becoming overwhelmed or meltdowns. Try:

  •  Sensory tools, break cards, take a break table,
  •  Emotion cards that communicate how they are feeling and what to do to repair emotions,
  •  Social Scripts that help students with turn taking, waiting, putting hand up to wait for a turn.

Impulse Control

This can be calling out, distracting others, aggression /fighting, rushing through activities without checking or inconsistency with following rules. Try:

  •  Redirection – telling them ‘what to do’ not ‘not what to do’ i.e. ‘Put your hand up’ rather than ‘No calling out,’
  •  Social Scripts that explain how to put up hand, rules for playground and group work,
  •  Prewarn about rules and expectations in specific situations and use visuals where possible.

Planning and Prioritising

This is where they have difficulty deciding the steps needed to reach a goal order of importance. As a result they may get no work done, be easily distracted, avoid tasks and may be easily overwhelmed. They may also have trouble seeing the main idea and easily go off topic. Try:

  • Visual planning supports such as Mindmaps, Rubrics,
  • Use calendars, diaries (make sure have set times to write in and check),
  • Break tasks into small achievable steps, tick off each step when completed.


This includes ability to keep track of information and things. Try:

  • Systems in place for organization
  • Minimising equipment and books i.e. one book/folder or limiting the side of pencil case and its contents
  • Take photos of how desk/locker/bag should look so remind them where things go
  • Help write down plans and thoughts and organize logically.

Task Initiation

This often looks like a student sitting doing nothing, being oppositional ‘I am not doing it’ or procrastinating (need toilet etc.). In actual fact they are often just so overwhelmed they don’t know how to start. Try:

  • Give a partner to work with, who can model what to do (or take turns with the child),
  • Limit and write down instructions where possible,
  • Simplify worksheets,
  • Traffic Light Strategy 


They often don’t like to change or stop in the middle of an activity. They don’t see other options or solutions and often don’t understand what is being asked of them. This can result in arguing, getting frustrated /angry and meltdowns. Often take things literally. Try:

  • Timers to pre-warn when to finish,
  • Routines/Schedules – Understand their need to know what is happening when,
  • Pre-warn about changes (people and events) Explain WHY changing and WHAT replacement i.e. Mum is picking you up today as Grandma is at the doctor
  • Use Social Scripts that give clear descriptions of what is going to change/new and what I need to do.

Working Memory

This is the inability to hold information in their mind and use it to complete a task. Struggle with multi-step tasks, remembering directions, taking notes or understanding something you’ve just explained to them. Try:

  • Visuals -The more visuals the better,
  • Model – SHOW what you want, don’t tell,
  • Co-actively do activities: learn best BY DOING and being involved in learning,
  • Slow it down, break it down,
  • Get them to repeat in own words instructions/direction.

Adapted from:

Sue Larkey has a background in education and has worked for many years educating others and researching ASD, and is the author of numerous publications.