People sometimes comment that we are all “on the spectrum somewhere”.

Autism Spectrum Disorder acknowledges that people can demonstrate recognised “traits” to a greater or lesser degree.

This post takes a look at how people with ASD in particular find it difficult to develop executive function skills and how this can, for some individuals, make life difficult.

  • Being inflexible – liking things to stay the same, not being able to change, not liking to shift focus quickly, difficulty learning from experience. People with ASD can be highly inflexible, and this could be related to what they eat, what they choose to wear, how easily they can change activities or how easily they can be willing to change their mind.
  • Working memory – being able to hold on to lots of information, identifying and presenting the main idea. People with ASD can appear to be single minded, and may prefer to do tasks one at a time. They may have difficulty with not being able to “see the wood for the trees” – in otherwise they can see the parts but not necessarily the whole in what they perceive or how they understand.
  • Emotional regulation – over-reacting or under-reacting, reading body language and tone of voice and the subtle nonverbal cues. Regulating emotions requires thinking skills to be integrated with emotional reactions and this can be difficult for people with poor executive functions. Emotional reciprocity often needs to be practised, to help maintain relationships and friendships.
  • Initiating – getting started and knowing what to do next. This can include starting conversation. Maintaining conversation can be difficult, keeping a topic going and changing topics fluently. It can be harder to understand that conversation is expected to be of a general nature rather than specific.
  • Generalising – being able to apply what you learn in one situation to another situation. So often in life, when we come up against a new experience, we need to apply what has been learned in other situations or apply learning to novel information. This can be difficult for people with ASD.
  • Abstract thinking – being able to take a nonliteral approach to language, understanding why jokes are funny, using your imagination. When people take things literally, misunderstandings occur.
  • Self-monitoring – noticing when you have made an error and changing it. We need to self-monitor constantly, being aware of our surroundings and others around us, fixing our spelling and punctuation when we write, and modifying our behaviour so that it is appropriate to the situation. It is one of those skills that we can all have difficulty with, and can be especially tricky for people with ASD.