How Executive Functioning Impacts Behavior

Children with executive functioning differences, like Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorder, often have behaviors that look like defiance, stubbornness, and mischief. Understanding the root of the behavior can help intervene appropriately, Child Not Listening to Parentand have a difficult situation reframed into a learning opportunity for your child.

  • Not Listening: A child with an attention difference may simply not be focusing or hearing you when you are speaking to her.  Be sure to have her full attention when telling her something important.  It may also help to ask your child to repeat back, or summarize what you have just asked her to do.  Visual cues, like lists and schedules, may help prevent communication break downs as well.
  • Disrespect: Children respond best to consistency.  If they learn that the rules and expectations vary, and that consequences are not enforced, there will not be a value to upholding the expectations and they may demonstrate disrespectful behavior.  The best way to correct this behavior is to have a clear definition of what behaviors are expected, and maintain absolute consistency, despite any escalation of behavior.  Co-parents are wise to support one another and not encourage or tolerate disrespectful behaviors.
  • Defiance: A child who is told what to do and refuses may be impacted by a change of routine, or a difficult with a shift or transition.  Often children with executive functioning differences become somewhat rigid or perseverative about whatever they are working on…from Minecraft to homework to researching the origin of dragons.  Asking them to shift from this immersive task, to begin a bedtime routine, join the family for dinner, or pick up her shoes, can disrupt her focus and concentration and lead to either an ignoring of your request, or a behavioral or emotional reaction.  Warnings and cues for any transition point, as well as practice and repetition of expected transition behaviors can help prepare your child.  Having pre-established routines, such as designated order of tasks, or designated times for transitions, can also ease this process.
  • No appreciation for consequences:  For all children, proximity or closeness of a consequence from the target behavior increases the effectiveness.  Children have a difficult time connecting a consequence that has been prolonged or extended, and this can contribute to anger and resentment instead.  For children with attention and executive functioning differences, the cause and effect factor may be even more disconnected.  Children with ADHD and ASD often respond better to positive reinforcement, or the opportunity to earn rewards, rather than face punishment.
  • Overreactivity: Children with ASD and ADHD often have sensory sensitivities, and they may exhibit this sensitivity with emotional reactions, meltdowns, and tantrums.  Once your child has calmed down, work together with him to identify the cause of the issue, and work on preventive strategies (i.e, headphones, comfort object, weighted vest, etc.).  It may be worthwhile to incorporate a professional such as an Occupational Therapist to help with this.
  • Dishonesty and Lying: Children with executive functioning differences may start to develop self-perceptions that they are “bad” and may lie or deceive caregivers to avoid punishment and negative emotions.  If a pattern of deceit and dishonesty is observed, it may be worthwhile to incorporate therapy and additional assistance to help redirect this behavior.