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  • Writer's pictureCory Morrison

Autism: My Executive Function Struggles

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

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Is Executive Function Challenging for Autistics?

Executive functioning can be rather complex, especially for many of us on the autism spectrum.

How do we manage our everyday activities? Are tasks that people do with little thought often more difficult for us?

According to Psychology Today, regardless of how well autistic people can remember details and how intelligent they may be, they have more challenges with daily living skills.

What are some examples of executive function difficulties I have faced and continue to try to overcome?

My Executive Function Challenges

Executive function challenges The Autism Awareness Centre list are attention, cognitive flexibility, inhibition, initiation, monitoring, planning, problem solving, reasoning and working memory.

A few of these executive function struggles especially stand out for me. You can also see my Working Memory article here.


When I was in elementary school, I was almost always distracted unless if the lesson was about something that heavily interested me.

As I mentioned in previous articles, I would too easily get distracted by things that weren't as important as the lesson material such as the time, calendars and birthdays on the wall, and stuff that happened during the day that disturbed me in either a good or bad way.

My report cards had numerous concerns regarding this area, but despite this, many adults in my life knew that if I worked hard in this area, my academic struggles in school would turn around.

As I got older (late elementary into high school), my ability to pay attention for long periods of time or at least pick up on the most important information to organize my thoughts increased quite significantly.

Because of the above improvement, my grades and my ability to work independently went up, as well.


Similar to attention, planning was also a struggle for me back then. However, my ability to plan for written assignments and projects improved once I got to high school.

Motor planning, however, can be a bit more difficult even to this day, especially with unfamiliar tasks.

To avoid getting mocked or criticized by others for not doing something right, I really need to think things through regarding steps and how I will get a motor planning task done correctly and in a reasonable amount of time.

For example, if I were to help family or friends move their stuff to a moving truck and the person wants me to help move furniture, I might not always know exactly what to do or struggle to manage my time efficiently enough to get it done with a certain amount of time.

More often than not, in these types of situations, my peers/other people doing a similar task will finish it faster than I do. They simply don't have to process much, think about what they're doing as much or get overwhelmed easily. A lot of the time, it seems like doing heavy labour or unfamiliar tasks come as naturally to them as brushing teeth. With me, however, the more familiar I am with something, the more functional I am.

Even in journalism school, I found it a lot harder to set up and put away a broadcast camera than the average person did. Packing a camera and then commuting to Toronto to set it up in an interview situation came naturally to many others, but not for me (which is one of the reasons why I'm more of a writer).

I feel like when some people see me struggle with things like this, they mistakenly think I'm being deliberately lazy, when in reality, this stuff does not always come naturally to me.

Below is my interpretation of the differences between neurotypicals without executive function (planning) struggles and autistics with these struggles based on my experiences and others' I have came across online.

executive function neurotypicals autistics


I, unfortunately, had many impulse control struggles when I was younger (more so in early elementary)

If a schoolmate annoyed me, I wouldn't just get annoyed, I would often scream "go away" or "eek" in anger. Little did I know that such behaviour could push people away as easily as they enter my life.

Also, if something trivial fascinated me, I wouldn't hesitate to voice my opinion right away (without thinking how others would respond). For example, if a parent volunteer were to give the class donuts, I probably would've been like, "DONUTS! DONUTS! DONUTS!" without thinking everything through and understanding that it's not necessarily the appropriate time or situation to do that.

With situations that involved more danger or things that were the law, my impulse control, thankfully, wasn't as bad. I understood that I can't get too close to fire and that I should never run on a busy road by the time I was five.


Executive function struggles are indeed real and impact many autistic lives daily. It's not laziness or even exhaustion, but often the struggle to understand exactly what to do to achieve desired outcomes to fit in with society.

Laziness to me is more like refusing to clean your room when you are capable of doing so. That is not executive dysfunction.

The quicker people address executive function issues with autism and the more people understand them, the easier it will be for autistic people to achieve things without having others frequently criticize them.

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