Published by The Social Domain • January 23, 2024 • 2 min read

How to Improve Executive Functioning Skills

Are you a caregiver of someone who struggles with executive dysfunctioning? It’s important to understand the difficulties that people have with this problem. There are basic skills associated with executive function. They are: ability in adaptable thinking, planning, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory, time management and organisation.

These obstacles can affect every area of the person’s actions from school and work to relationships and self-care. There are ways that can help those with this difficulty. With patience and awareness, caregivers can help people with executive functioning difficulties live fulfilling and rewarding lives.

1. Understand the diagnosis

Once receiving a diagnosis of ASD, ADHD or executive dysfunction, it can be a lot to understand. The person may feel like they have increased pressure and be overwhelmed with these words. It is important to realise that knowing what the problem is, can also be liberating. Increased knowledge allows us to find more specific support strategies and help with management. Initially it may be difficult, remaining optimistic and seeing the diagnosis as a move towards better understanding and greater insight to assist purposely.

2. Seek professional advice

When it comes to executive dysfunction, find a clinician who specialises in this area. Many neurodiverse people find that seeing a therapist or clinician (Speech Pathologist, Occupational Therapist and Psychologist) helps in handling their symptoms. A therapist can empower them to understand specific characteristics that are unique to the individual and develop a personalised treatment plan. They can also provide guidance and support to learn new strategies for coping.

3. Develop a support network

Although your friends and family can be a great source of support, it’s also important to connect with people who can relate. You may have the opportunity to connect with people who are going through similar difficulties by joining a neurodiverse support group or online community.

4. Create a realistic routine

Having a consistent daily routine can help people with executive dysfunction feel more in control and therefore stronger. The routine can be recorded for a week and also a visual schedule can also be created. This can help especially when feeling overwhelmed. Setting alarms or reminders on someone’s phone to remind them of upcoming activities can also be used in addition to their schedule.

5. Simplify everyday life activities

People with executive dysfunction may struggle with planning and completing tasks. Breaking larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps can make them feel less overwhelmed and more achievable. For example, if they are feeling overloaded by the sheer volume of housework, ask them to start focusing on one room at a time or one task per day. This approach can help them to see their progress, rather than feeling like they are constantly falling behind. In addition, try to focus on what’s truly important, and letting go of anything that isn’t adding value and meaning to their lives. By streamlining their commitments and simplifying their routine, they will be able to free up more time for the things that matter the most to them.

6. Use visual aids

Written lists, calendars, pictures and real objects are good ways of helping neurodiverse people to know what is going to happen and when. In addition, something as basic as a to-do list can deliver a sense of structure and order. Likewise, a calendar can be a valuable tool for tracking appointments, deadlines, and other important dates. For those who prefer to work with images rather than words, charts and diagrams can offer a way to visualise information. By taking advantage of these combined with other tools, people can stay on track and make the most of every day.

7. Use Colour coding

Colours can be used to identify the importance of tasks. This in turn helps to prioritise tasks and work through them in a logical sequence. For example, work in a red tray or file could be urgent, work in a green tray or file could be pending, while work in a blue tray or file is not important or has no timescale attached to it. Colours can also help people to distinguish between paperwork, for example different household bills.

8. Take breaks throughout the day

For people with executive dysfunction, their tendency to hyperfocus may leave them exhausted. As such, it’s important they pace themselves and take breaks throughout the day. Plan for their breaks in advance to allow people to refuel regularly. Schedule breaks into their day or establish a routine of breaks that fit into their workday.

9. Complete a task and then go to an enjoyable activity

There are many everyday household activities that people enjoy and do not enjoy. Some people enjoy cooking, while others prefer gardening, general maintenance or doing the laundry. Whatever the task that needs to be done, it is important to find something that brings satisfaction to kickstart the motivation. Whether someone play’s music in the background while they put clothes away or quietly reflect on their day ahead while they wash their dishes. Mix enjoyable things with tedious tasks to make them easier to complete.

10. Give them praise

As a caregiver, it’s easy to get caught up in always looking towards the future and thinking about what needs to be done next. But it’s important to take a step back and give yourself credit for how far your family member, colleague or client has come. No matter how small progress may seem, accomplishments are worth celebrating. Doing so will boost their self-confidence and motivation, two essential ingredients for success. So, take a minute to congratulate them on everything they’ve achieved, big or small.

11. Practice self-care

Executive dysfunction can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Encourage people to take breaks when needed and prioritize self-care activities such as exercise, mindfulness, or relaxation.

The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) is world-renowned. It is an evidence-based social skills treatment program. It can make a big difference in the lives of adolescents and adults with social challenges and executive dysfunction. PEERS® is a parent/caregiver-assisted, 16-weeks social skills intervention. It helps people with social challenges to learn the skills they need to succeed. If you or someone you know could benefit from PEERS®, we encourage you to learn more about the program and consider participating.

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