Many people with autism spectrum disorder struggle with executive functioning. Executive functioning is the process that aids people in their ability to mentally process a plan, focus their attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. They also struggle with the ability to sequence information, regulate emotions, and are not able to see the big picture while focusing on small details. Executive functioning can be divided into two categories, organization and regulation. Organization can be classified as gathering and structuring information for evaluation. Regulation refers to recognizing your surroundings and changing your behavior to respond appropriately.

The following areas that individuals with executive functioning difficulties struggle with are:

Impulse Control

Individuals may be very impulsive and may not think before speaking or acting.

Accommodations to improve Impulse Control:

  • Playing an instrument/singing
  • Video games
  • Role-play
  • Individualized tool box
  • Yoga
  • The STAR technique; Stop, Think, Act, Review.


Individuals may find it challenging to adapt to changes in their daily lives, schedules and environment. They may be stubborn and struggle to shrug off disappointments. In their mind, there may only be one solution to a problem and they may not be open to other perspectives.

Flexibility can be improved with the following:

  • Playing an instrument/singing
  • Video games
  • Tools that help identifying problems 
  • Check lists/schedules
  • Model and “Think out Loud”
  • Self-talk
  • Yoga

Emotional Control

Individuals may have explosive, angry outbursts in reaction to seemingly small problems and may become tearful. Mood swings are common

Emotional Control can be improved by:

  • Understanding their own sensory triggers
  • Practicing self regulation
  • Adapting to their environment 
  • Yoga and Meditation
  • Role-playing

Task Initiation

Individuals with ASD may struggle to take initiative and may lack motivation. Many individuals are unable to begin a task even when it is an activity that they enjoy doing, they need direction on where to begin. They may struggle to come up with ideas to fill their free time.

Struggles with task initiation can be addressed with the following:

  • Schedules and checklists
  • Step by step instructions, written or video
  • Alarms and reminders on cell phones
  • Provide 3-4 choices, not free choice
  • SMART goals 

Working Memory

Individuals may appear absent-minded and may experience difficulty with multi-step chores such as only remembering the first or last steps.

Accommodations to address challenges with working memory:

  • Provide written or video instructions
  • Break big chunks of information into small, bite-sized pieces
  • Exercise
  • Playing an instrument/singing/dancing
  • Dual-N-back brain game
  • Strategy games 
  • Yoga

Organization and Planning

Individuals may experience challenges with organizing written work, struggle in planning future activities and may underestimate the time required to complete a task. Following a task through to completion can be a challenge.

Accommodations to address planning and organization challenges include:

  • Checklists
  • Break down task in smaller, manageable pieces
  • Graphic organizers
  • Day planner, Google calendar or iCal
  • Set time limits
  • De-clutter environment
  • Timer


Individuals may be unaware of how their behavior affects other people, may struggle to ask for help when needed, may make careless errors and leave work incomplete.

Accommodations for self-monitoring include:

  • Checklists
  • Reminders
  • Scripts

Executive functioning issues can be managed when using the suggested tools mentioned above. It is important to improve your self awareness and understanding when you are having executive functioning difficulties.

There is currently no specific test that will identify if someone has an issue with executive functioning. Experts typically rely on different tests to measure certain skills, these tests can highlight the problems that individuals can have with executive functioning.