Executive Functioning in Autism and ADHD

AutismA common diagnosis clarification requested is to determine autism spectrum disorder (ASD) / Asperger’s disorder versus attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Both disorders impact the frontal lobe, responsible for executive functioning.

Executive functioning deficits impact the following areas:
Working Memory: This is the short term memory responsible for following multi-step directions. It may be difficult to remember more than one task at a time, or all of the directions required for a task or assignment.

Reasoning: Understanding cause and effect, anticipating consequences, and regulating emotions and thoughts effectively enough to apply reasoning can be impacted by ASD and ADHD.

Task Flexibility: Being able to switch attention and focus, transition between steps within a task, and apply novel solutions to a problem are all aspects of flexibility.

Problem Solving: Applying the reasoning necessary, maintaining calm and focus, and sustaining attention through all aspects of the problem can all be difficult with an executive functioning difference.

Planning: Planning requires anticipation, long term focus and an ability to apply the reasoning and problem solving as explained above. Planning also requires an anticipation of what may go wrong, and anxiety can further derail the executive functioning system.

Organization: Organization requires planning and reasoning abilities, as well as an attention to detail. Prioritization is also necessary with organization, and adherence to systems may overload an individual with ADHD and ASD.
With autism spectrum disorders, attention disorders, and executive functioning disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy and skills coaching can be helpful to boost any one of these areas, and apply strategies that can improve overall executive functioning.