No, I’m afraid this blog post isn’t about President “Not Everybody’s President” Donald “Mine is Bigger” Trump. I don’t care to waste a blog post ranting about this guy at the moment, so instead we’re going to talk about something else that is probably more relevant to my life as well as the lives of others on the spectrum. Executive functions are a subject we as humans don’t broach, because often times a neurotypical never has to worry about this; They work without you having to do much about it. The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. To break it down, executive functions fall into several key categories,
-Management of large volumes of information
A normal person (to put it bluntly) couldn’t give a single fuck about all of this stuff because it is generally second nature with the biggest hindrances being fatigue, and laziness. For someone on the spectrum, an attention deficit disorder, or both, Executive functions wound up lacking in one, or many of these categories. Some of us may have problems with time management, others may have trouble focusing, some of us might even have trouble with short term memory, or even organization. Executive Functions are like the internal components of a car, or computer; you never really have to think about them until you start having problems that hinder your ability to get even the simplest of things done. If you haven’t read enough of this blog then you’re probably wondering just what the fuck this all has to do with me. Come hither children, it’s time to go down the rabbit hole that is my mind once again.
Executive Functioning difficulties have plagued my life for years, I just never realized what they were until I started working in my current field. I’m essentially a car fit with a custom engine even I’m still trying to understand the workings of almost 30 years later. Executive Functioning was a phrase I started running into often while reading the assessments of clients that were referred to me. The more I started working with these clients, the more “me too” moments I started having. I started understanding myself a lot more than I did previously. The few minor issues I had here and there with managing many aspects of my life became part of a larger whole. All of a sudden, my inability to adequately structure large blocks of free time had an explanation. Me forgetting to follow up with people wasn’t just some simple fluke. My inability to multitask, or change tasks wasn’t simply and “Autism Thing”. Most of these problems I managed to clamp down on over the years, but they still affect me in a myriad of ways. I shall break down some of my struggles using the categories listed above.
Time Management: I can generally manage my day to day at work, and any plans I have outside of work. The biggest problem for me comes when I have free time. I’ll have a list of things that I put off until I have free time, yet I never seem to get to them because I’m so fatigued I’d rather sit in front of the computer mindlessly browsing the internet. When I do decide to do something, some days it’s difficult to stick to one task for a long period of time unless I find it engaging that day. I’m also not the greatest at coordinating time and traffic. I’ll get ready to leave to go somewhere, realize I have a lot of time, and sit in front of the computer killing time until I realize I’m pressed for time causing me to be late. I have piles of games and movies I’ve yet to go through because I can never structure my free time well enough to get to them. It can be super frustrating because I sit there wishing I had the free time, but when I have the free time I waste it. This also becomes a problem when I have important non work related things to do like paying certain bills, or filling out important paperwork.
Planning: Logistics aren’t always my strong suit because despite the best laid plans, I never adjust my schedule adequately to account for the complications that can foil the best laid plans. One example of this was when I decided to take my girlfriend on a date I planed well, just not well enough. I was to take her to a shrine followed by a Thai place I was looking into; simple right? Not with me. There were several things I completely overlooked. My destination was unfortunately with the flow of the evening commute. What should’ve been a 30 minute commute turned into a 2 hour commute. I also completely forgot that the shrine is a popular tourist occasion around the time of year we embarked on this date (December). It took an hour to get there, an addition 30 minutes to get inside because their was a line so long, PAX East/West lines would be jealous. Finding parking took another 30 minutes. By the time we got there, it was almost 8. We walked around and saw the pretty lights until it was time to go. Time to go to that Thai restaurant, oh wait, it closes in about 15 minutes. Well shit, guess we’re getting Chinese. Thankfully I have a keeper, or this wouldn’t have turned out well. I also have trouble managing a budget as mentioned in my last post “Got My Mind On My Money (And My Money On My Mind….)“. I’ll get paid, splurge on some impulse buy, and for get about that one bill that creeps up on me around that time frame. Next thing you know, I’m having ramen for dinner.
Organization/Managing Large Volumes of Info: I’ve had my struggles with organization during my middle school years. This isn’t a big of a problem now though it can manifest itself with large volumes of information. When I first got my promotion, I transitioned into managing a large caseload of clients. One of the ways you deal with this is crafting a management system that works for you. The first iteration of that system was stellar until my caseload started growing. I had to retool the entire system in order to fit my current caseload, and beyond. Large volumes of information can be extremely overwhelming at times. I do manage to process/sort it all in due time. I do better with organization that I do the other executive functions, but I have my struggles every now and then.
Remembering Details: This unfortunately is a huge Achilles Heel of mine. I excel in long term memory but, my short term memory can really suck some days. Back in my older job position, I was the assistant to a department coordinator. During her absences due to medical, or personal reasons; I would be the one manning the fort. The quality of the paper trail from her absences would determine how well I could recall information. She could ask me about the status of something, and I would completely forget how it went down because at the time, I dealt with it and moved on. My mind works in such a way that it diverts most of it’s resources to focus on what’s in front of me. This makes learning new things pretty difficult in the interim. It is also a problem that occasionally causes me to forget to follow up with clients and any issues that pop up. This is a problem that became a killer while I was in school. It was very difficult for me to retain information that was adequately broken down in steps. This lead to teachers losing their patience when they had to explain something to me for the umpteenth time. This also affects me when it comes to starting things, and leaving them. Often times when I let my dog outside to, OH SHIT MY DOG IS STILL OUTSIDE!!! I’ll be right back.
See what I mean. I let the dog out to pee, I go to do something quickly, and I forgot the dog was out there until 20-40 minutes goes by.
Multitasking: This struggle comes down to a mix of attention issues, and motor difficulties. I suck at eating while driving; I don’t know how the hell people do it. I can drive with one hand easily, but it takes a certain kind of focus to eat. I’m a one thing at a time guy, and when I have to split my attention between multiple things, it doesn’t end well.
Maintaining Focus: My ability to maintain focus can depend heavily on a mix of where my mind is, and how engaging the task is. I could enjoy the task I’m doing, but I’ll have a scatter brain that day and will want to do many things. I could be bored of the task I’m doing as important as it is and also have trouble maintaining focus.
Switching Focus: There will be days where I get to focused on what I’m doing. This can often involve playing a really good video game, watching a really good TV show, writing my blog/book. Diverting my focus to something else that pops up in that moment can be extremely difficult. One prominent example of this was in school. I would get really hooked to a good video game; when I went to school, that video game became the only thing that preoccupied my mind to the point I would daydream in class and miss a ton of material. Theses fixations also happened when I had crushes on other women. I would think about them all the time to the point that thinking of anything else was a challenge. I also have a tendency of getting angry some days when I’m engrossed in a movie/video game and someone in my house would need me to give them a ride somewhere, or my mother needed me for something.It isn’t anything against them, I just wanted to do what ever I was doing uninterrupted. It takes a lot of mental energy for me to maintain focus and breaking that focus was really aggravating.
I manage to excel at life in spite of all these difficulties. It just takes way more work than it should some days. One big part of it is knowing when I’ll trip on my own shoelaces, and putting systems in place to ensure that prevent that from happening. To end with the words of a favorite cartoon character of mine, “You don’ win, you just do a little better each time”.