Executive Dysfunction

Executive Dysfunction

This was a difficult article to write. Executive function and executive dysfunction are massive umbrella terms that cover so many behaviours that it’s difficult to pin down a definition to discuss. The article that made most sense to me (and highlighted that I probably suffer from executive dysfunction a little) was this one. The big italic quote at the top was from this article but together the two parts sounded like they were written about me personally 😛 I even showed it to my partner and he laughed and agreed it fit me to a T.

So what is executive function or executive dysfunction?

In psychology and neuroscience, executive dysfunction, or executive function deficit, is a disruption to the efficacy of the executive functions, which is a group of cognitive processes that regulate, control, and manage other cognitive processes. Executive dysfunction can refer to both neurocognitive deficits and behavioural symptoms. It is implicated in numerous psychopathologies and mental disorders, as well as short-term and long-term changes in non-clinical executive control.

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Executive function (EF) is a broad term that refers to the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control and manage our thoughts and actions. It includes planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, initiation of actions and monitoring of actions.

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I’m seeing it crop up in my life a lot lately. We’re switching systems at work on the devices we use to monitor stock levels and somehow I’m struggling through tasks that essentially haven’t changed much. As my partner had to point out to me – I’m great at making lists, less good at following them. Some things are more subtle – although things like planning and organisation fall under the executive function umbrella, so does things like initiation or inhibition of actions and emotions. In simpler terms: fidgeting and stimming is also an example of executive dysfunction! I haven’t figured out yet if I fidget or stim but whatever it is it annoyed all my teachers 😛 I’m terrible at organising a house, doing laundry or washing up or even having a shower. It’s not that I don’t want to do them (I’m usually fairly neutral on most household chores and even enjoy showers once I’m in them) I just somehow never get around to it. Setting alarms and reminders on my phone helps a little bit, sometimes, if I only do it for the most important tasks, because if I set too many I start to ignore them.

However, what exactly is executive function? That can be tricky to define as executive function refers to a wide collection of functions the brain performs. The term is a nod to the executive of a company who oversees everything and keeps things running smoothly. When executive functioning is impaired, everyday tasks can become incredibly difficult or even impossible depending on the type and degree of impairment.

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Apparently she thinks my executive functioning is poor. What’s that? Sounds like something from a company board room meeting. She informs me it’s why I struggle stay organised and why the house is always untidy. It’s hard work trying to have a conversation with me. I tend to do monologues rather than 2 way conversations, I don’t know how to take turns, and I keep bringing the topic back to what I want to talk about.

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God, am I bad at conversations. So are the social difficulties associated with Asperger’s/Autism caused by the executive dysfunction or merely exacerbated by the executive dysfunction?

What am I, a doctor? I haven’t a clue 😛

I’ve talked before about my difficulties with learning to drive. That’s almost certainly an executive dysfunction thing – I can do all the tasks separately (mirrors, gears, indicating…) but I can’t do them all at once. I also have difficultly predicting what to her drivers are going to do. We’re meant to look at thier signals and actions and yet also plan for in case they do something completly different.

Dear God, when will get the driverless cars?

-“to […] round the corner of a hallway” – Blessed art thou, who don’t need to go around the corner of a simple hallway, firstly by significantly slowing down your pace, secondly by following your path by nearly rubbing your shoulder against the wall opposite that corner, and thirdly even so, managing sometimes to bruise your corner’s side shoulder against it. And if there’s no corner, there will be an open door, the same armchair, coffee table, anything which should be somewhere else… And if there’s nothing in your way, your brain will desperately attempt to find a pattern-like structure to align itself by, in which case everything returns to square one…

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My spatial awareness is terrible. It’s so, so, bad. When I was a kid my knees were solid bruise from the knee down – it’s less bad these days, as I don’t tumble about as much as I used to when I was five. Nonetheless, I usually have two or three bruises on my person from walking into furniture that was exactly where it was yesterday. I also have this neat trick where I put my foot down… sideways… somehow? I genuinely don’t understand how I do that but these days I just roll with it. Bounce off that wall, walk around the chair, walk off the stumble, and check for bruises when I get home.

As far as I can tell, there aren’t many issues that can’t be tied back to executive dysfunction in some way – either caused by, or exaggerated by. Even sensory sensitivities can be traced back to regulating input. Executive function or dysfunction can cover almost every aspect of our lives. This makes it extremely hard to anticipate and prepare for those pitfalls. I personally can’t find those pitfalls until I’ve fallen into them two or three times.

How does executive dysfunction affect you?



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