Executive dysfunction; oh what a mess!

I recently came across the concept of executive dysfunction, and how it relates to autistic people in this series of articles by Cynthia Kim. The theory is that problems with executive function may explain a lot of the difficulties autistics have with activities of daily living. Like everything, though, it’s a lot more complicated than it appears. This  lengthy meta-analysis of research into executive dysfunction in autistics shows many flaws in how studies were set up, with the results often not teasing out what was caused by autism and what was caused by having an Intellectual Disability. Also, when more nuanced tests were performed, it showed that autistics did OK until a certain level of complexity was reached. And, as always, not enough of the tests were conducted on adults of average IQ. It is likely that problems with executive function effect some autistics more than others, and that some may do ok in some aspects of executive function but not other parts. It’s a very broad area and very complicated. 

How, you may ask, does this effect me?  It seems executive dysfunction may go a long way to explaining some things that I used to think were just me being ‘lazy, messy and forgetful.’  I find it very hard to start tasks, to remain on task, and to complete tasks. For example, as a child I’d decide my room needed tidying. It was my refuge and safe haven, and boy was it messy! It’s not that I like living in a mess. I detest it. But have always had difficulty with tidying up. Once a week, the cleaner would tidy it (during that period where we could afford a cleaner) and I used to feel so happy. But when I tried to do it myself, I quickly ran into problems. 

Where to start? What should I do first? Start from the door and work my way in? Clothes first? What’s dirty and what’s clean? What was I doing again? Oh, look, a book I never finished reading…. And I’d end up lying in bed, reading a book. And all due to trouble with executive function. 

These days, I still have trouble in this area. My short term memory is atrocious. So much so, the kids call me ForgettyFace. I rely a lot on schedules and lists and timers. And then forget to use them. Compounding the issue is chronic pain and fatigue. And the result is… well, a house a lot less tidy and clean than I would like. 

I came across a few resources to help me. First of all were the books of Marie Kondo. They have helped me make a start on decluttering. Except I keep forgetting to then bring what I don’t want to the charity shop. Then there’s 30 Days to a Clean and Organised House. Hmm. Can’t hurt, right? And finally this nifty little app Unfuck Your Habitat

Obviously, executive dysfunction causes me a lot more trouble than just having a messy home. But right now, the mess is the most distressing thing for me. Hopefully these resources will help me make a dent in the mess, and lead to less stress all round. Wish me luck!!!

[imagr shows the front page of the Unfuck Your Habitat app. Included in the list of clickable items are:

Random Unfucking Challenge 

My To-Unfuck List

Challenge by Room

Random Unfucking Motivation 

20/10 Timer

My Unfucking Achievements. ]


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