Inside Look at an Outsider: Executive Function Disorder

A trusted mentor, who loved to dabble in investing, gave me a valuable piece of advice: “learn what steps you need to take in order to invest for retirement.”  Perceptive, as always, he told me about an important skill you need for retirement investing.

Little did I know at the time that this is a key skill in the management of the brain, also called executive function.  Some people have a dysfunction in their executive functioning: having trouble following a sequence of steps.

Imagine how difficult moving residences would be for someone who has trouble following a sequence of steps.  Moving involves an intricate series of steps that sometimes intertwine:

  • Finding a new residence
  • Job changing, if needed
  • Choosing and selecting a moving company
  • Changing utilities
  • Transportation to the new location
  • Notifying appropriate parties of the move

This is a partial list on a moving to-do list, of course.

Executive functioning is like the “management system of your brain,” according to  What is it exactly, though?

What is Executive Function in the Brain?

The best explanation that I found about executive functioning is on, an organization servicing people who are neurodiverse.

According to Understood,

“Executive function is a set of mental skills that include:

  1. working memory
  2. flexible thinking
  3. self-control

We use these skills every day to learn, work, and manage daily life. Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus, follow directions, and handle emotions, among other things.”

The following skills are executive functions, according to WebMD:

  • Manage time
  • Pay attention
  • Switch focus
  • Plan and organize
  • Remember details
  • Avoid saying or doing the wrong thing
  • Do things based on your experience
  • Multitask

What happens when there is dysfunction in executive functioning?

Executive Functioning Disorder

Here are some indicators that someone may have an executive functioning disorder, according to

  • Have trouble starting and/or completing tasks
  • Have difficulty prioritizing tasks
  • Forget what they just heard or read
  • Have trouble following directions or a sequence of steps
  • Panic when rules or routines change
  • Have trouble switching focus from one task to another
  • Get overly emotional and fixate on things
  • Have trouble organizing their thoughts
  • Have trouble keeping track of their belongings
  • Have trouble managing their time

Some of these indicators can create problems in interpersonal relations.

For instance, I have seen workplace situations where tension is caused when someone becomes highly anxious about change, or emotional about perceived injustices (library fines, i.e.,) or unable to keep track of their belongings or time (some of the indicators of the disorder.)

All of these situations create uncomfortable situations that may invite negative reactions that may be unhelpful, if the source of the conflict is a person who has an executive function disorder.

I have found that people who cause similar situations usually find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being an outsider:  someone who doesn’t quite fit in because they are eccentric or “quirky.”

Instead of ostracizing someone suffering from an executive function disorder, is there a way to help them or to provide remedies?  How can you help someone who is struggling with their executive function?

Managing Executive Function Problems

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, sufferers with executive function disorder can manage executive function problems as follows:

“General strategies:

  • Take step-by-step approaches to work
  • Rely on visual organizational aids
  • Use tools like time organizers, computers or watches with alarms
  • Prepare visual schedules and review them several times a day
  • Ask for written directions with oral instructions whenever possible
  • Plan and structure transition times and shifts in activities

Managing time:

  • Create checklists and "to do" lists
  • Estimate how long tasks will take
  • Break long assignments into chunks and assign time frames for completing each chunk
  • Use visual calendars to keep track of long term assignments, due dates, chores, and activities
  • Use your phone calendar
  • Write the due date on top of each assignment

Managing space and materials:

  • Organize work space
  • Minimize clutter
  • Consider having separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities
  • Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize the work space

Managing work:

  • Make a checklist for getting through assignments
  • Meet with a teacher or supervisor on a regular basis to review work; troubleshoot problems”

Books About Executive Function:

Executive Functions, book cover
On Task, book cover
Executive Function in Preschool-age Children, book cover
Teenagers with ADD, ADHD & executive function deficits, book cover
Coaching college students with executive function problems, book cover