Executive functioning is by far one of the most frequently asked about topics from my followers on the autism spectrum. Often, those of us on the autism spectrum have great difficulty with performing everyday tasks. For me, this is because the world around me is so overwhelming that I run out of energy before I have the time to complete the necessary tasks I need to in order to function. Here are some tips on how I maintain executive functioning skills even with low energy.
1. Physical Exercise
Recently, I have become the most active I have ever been. Physical activity helps me to stay calm and more alert throughout the day. In many ways it is a reset. It allows me to have an outlet for all the anxiety I am holding inside. Once this anxiety is released I am calmer and more able to look at tasks that need to be accomplished without feeling overwhelmed. It has also drastically helped my sleep, which in turn helps my executive functioning. The more well rested I am, the more energy I have for executive functioning tasks.
It’s no secret. I am terrible with numbers. In fact, I would say I am dyslexic with numbers. I cannot visualize them in my mind. This can make bills difficult. In order to stay on budget I create a calendar. I write down my bills and the full amounts on each due date so I can see it. With this visual, not only am I able to remember but also I can now stick to budgets. Once my bills are written down, I take one of my bank statements. On the statement I see how much food is costing me as well as other living expenses. I then see how much is left over. This is a great visual because I see exactly where my money is going and what my spending habits are. I then create exact numbers for me to stick to (ex: eating out, $100 per month, groceries $300 per month etc.) and keep a running tab in my phone. Once I reach the number, I know that I am unable to spend in the category until the next month or paycheck. Visuals by far are most helpful to me in keeping track of my money since I cannot visualize it in my head.
3. Planners and Agendas
There is something calming about the actual act of writing something down. I have a physical planner that I write in. When I feel stressed out, I divide each large item into smaller more attainable tasks. I then schedule each task into my days during the week ensuring they are all completed by the due date. This way, I still have enough energy because I have broken the larger item down into tasks that only take a few minutes to complete. I also gain a sense of control, which brings my stress level down. I am able to prioritize tasks and have something I can look at to see how much time I have for each and what priority each should take. It can also be very satisfying to be able to check things off the list as you complete them.
4. Schedule Chores into your Routine
I and many other autistic people live by routine. It’s how we know what to expect. In order to get daily living chores done, I make them a part of my routine. For example, I schedule ten minutes of cleaning every day at the same time. Now even though it is a chore, it is routine. I also develop “first, then” language to reward myself. “First dishes, then TV.” This way, I know the order of things and what to expect when. I know I can’t expect the reward of TV until the dishes part of my routine has been completed. This allows me to give myself the reward without negative thinking, like “If the dishes are not done then I cannot watch TV.” Spinning it the other way sets you into a more productive and positive mindset. Just as brushing my teeth has become second nature in the morning before getting dressed, over time other chores have become second nature as well.
5. Create Balance
What has helped me most with self-regulation, especially with my intense emotions and tendency to take everything personally is creating a balanced environment. The more at peace I am with myself, the more comfortable I am to look inwardly and analyze what I am feeling, eventually identifying it. Ways I create balance include eating well, self care, and creating spaces I can escape to. This allows me to take a step back from a situation and ask myself if it is really about me, or if the person could be reacting for a reason that has nothing to do with me. I also always give myself time before responding. If someone hurts me with something they do, I count to ten in my head. This allows me to calm down and not give an impulsive response. I believe the reason I take things personally is because I am already anxious about social situations. Without the ability to read facial expressions, sense tone, mood, or underlying emotion without being told, I am constantly guessing and secretly worried that it is because of something I may have done. Because I have no way of knowing. This of course causes stress and is why I must always take steps back to realize and understand what is truly happening. The more balanced and centered I am, the easier it is to do so.
My Question to Readers:
Let me know in the comments what your greatest executive functioning struggle is. What strategies do you use?