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Executive Function Fail

Last night while trying arrange my pillows just right to attempt to fall asleep, because it seems like I spend the whole night attempted to sleep, I started thinking about something I read on Musing of an Aspie’s blog last week. It is a post she entitled, Procrastination or Executive Function Fail?  Yes, these are the things that run through my mind at nighttime as Hubby pointed out when I began rambling on about it.

The following is an excerpt from that blog post, but please check out the full post, here.

“Executive Function Fail

I don’t go out of my way to do something in place of wiping up that spot on the floor. I just don’t do it. It doesn’t even occur to me to do it. My thought process is literally:

There’s a spot on the floor. Huh. That’s annoying. I wonder how it got there. Looks like sauce. Funny how it dripped in a circle like that. Wait, why did I come to the kitchen? Oh, right, there’s an empty water glass in my hand.

This feels more like simple executive function fail. Solving a problem, even a minor one, requires four EF-specific steps:

  1. identify the observed condition as a problem
  2. plan a solution by selecting and ordering strategies
  3. maintain strategies in short term memory in order to perform them
  4. evaluate the outcome and troubleshoot as necessary”


So you ask me why I am contemplating this instead of sleeping. The answer is simple (well, not really, is anything ever?). I need to get my big fat round preggo butt out of bed more times at night to use the bathroom than I care to count. This weekend every time I went in there I realized that the bowel needed a scrubbing and I looked behind it for that little scrubby thing that is supposed to be there but again wasn’t, and though, “dang it, that is freaking annoying!” Where had that damn scrubby gone to now? If only it was there then maybe just maybe I would have taken care of this irritating issue this time.

The trouble is that by the time I leave the bathroom, the irritant (in this case the bowel I want cleaner than it current is) leaves my mind. I am lost somewhere between step one and two. Then of course, when I start thinking about it I am usually in a positing (like buried in a wall of pillows trying to sleep) and there is no way I am getting up to “fix” the problem. Selecting and ordering strategies to fix the identified problem almost never stays in my short-term memory past the irritate being out of my visual site!  Tripped up on step 3; and yes, this happens all the time, every day, and with many many tasks.

This is also how bills get paid late, or not until I flip the light switch and find out there is no electricity because I forgot to pay that damn bill again (thankfully, this has gotten so  much better since diagnosis and realization that it can not be only left up to  me…must have safe-guards in place, we need lights!)

These seemingly little things, the smudge on the counter, the spot on the floor, the missing toilet bowel scrubby, can all add up to an overwhelming mess! At least in mind it does, and then a loss at where to begin to remember, and then fix all the things that drive me crazy.

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.


  1. PS: I should probably mention that I’m replying to this blog instead of working because I too have procrastination/executive function issues!

  2. I wonder if your executive function would improve if you spent time in a dark bedroom for half an hour a day. I’m thinking that maybe you are able to think about all these things at night because your environment is nice and dark and quiet and calm so your body isn’t fighting all this crazy sensory stuff.. Maybe you can set aside half an hour a day for ‘dark room thinking’ and then half an hour to make a list/action all the dark room thinking items that arose?

    • Hi Nikki,

      I hadn’t thought of that, but you may be on to something here because I certainly cannot think when there is a whole mess of other things going on around me. AND I definitely cannot prepare to solve problems, organize my thoughts, and then take action to do housekeeping or many other tasks when kids are jumping around or running and playing…but at night when I am trying to fall asleep–that’s is when all that stuff comes rushing in on me. I thought it may just be stress bubbling up when I am trying to sleep.

      • It would be interesting to see if it helped.

        I just mention it because I know that our bedroom is the place where all our serious talking/debriefing/connecting happens. For my (aspie) husband the dark, quiet, safe room is the only place he can really openly talk about his feelings/worries/stresses and for my (aspie) daughter it’s the only place where she can let her guard fully down as well.

        If you decide to give it a go, let me know how it went! 🙂

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