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Executive Functioning for Students with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

Executive Function - Umbrella term used by psychologists to describe many
tasks performed by the brain that are necessary to think, act and solve problems. Through the use of these skills we are able to learn new information, remember
and retrieve information from past experiences and use the information for goal directed behaviors. ”


Executive Function (EF) is a neuropsychology concept that is not a fully defined,
documented, and/or verified idea. Psychologists have differing opinions about
what mental processes are involved. We have included two general areas broken down by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare from Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents.





Thinking Skills

Planning: The ability to create a roadmap to reach a goal or to complete a task.

Organization: Ability to arrange or place according to a system.

Time Management: The capacity to estimate how much time one has, how to allocate it, and how to stay within limits and deadlines.

Working Memory: The ability to hold information in mind while performing complex tasks. It incorporates the ability to draw on past learning or experience to apply to the situation at hand or to project problem-solving strategies into the future.

Metacognition: The ability to stand back and take a bird’s-eye view of oneself in a situation. It is an ability to observe how you problem solve. It also includes self-monitoring and self-evaluation skills. (“How and I doing?” or “How did I do?”)


Behavior Regulation Skills

Response Inhibition: The ability to think before you act. Resist the urge to do something that may have a negative impact.

Self-regulation of Affect: Ability to manage emotions in order to achieve goals, complete task, or control and direct behavior.

Task Initiation: Ability to begin a task without undue procrastination.

Flexibility: Ability to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information, or mistakes. Adaptability for change conditions.

Goal-directed Persistence: Drive/capacity to follow through to the completion of a goal and not become distracted by other demands or competing interests.

*Source: Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, authors of the book Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents



Executive Skills and the Brain
EF refers to a series of function located largely in the frontal and prefrontal cortex of the brain (located behind the forehead). This area is associated with coordination and synthesis of emotions, thinking memory and body or physical movement. Thus, EF plays a crucial role in integration of many processes, problem solving and control process mentioned above.




Executive Function Importance
For people without executive functioning problems these skills are performed quickly and instinctively without much awareness. For individual who struggle with executive functioning, they do not perform these tasks intuitively. They often have difficulty with planning, organization and managing time and space. Additionally they often struggle with working memory.


Disorder in Executive Functioning
Executive Functioning problems can be seen at any age but tend to become more
apparent as children move through the early elementary grades. As academic demands increase and the independent school work is required of students, signs that there are difficulties become more apparent.



Who is impacted with Executive Function Challenges?
Often seen with individuals who are diagnosed with:


Intervention Choices
1. Teach students to work around deficits

2. Directly train weak or missing skills



Typical Learning Strategies and Weaknesses associated with ASD


Learning Area




Executive Function

Perceptual Skills














Immediate Direct

Fine motor





Flexibility/Organizations skills/




Working memory/Memory strategies/Organization

Stimulus generalization/Response generalization


Sensory Regulation/Sensory modulation/Motor planning



General Intervention Strategies



Interventions: Modifying the Environment



Interventions: Changes to the Physical or Social Environment

Survey the environment to determine if there are impediments that may be interfering or distracting the student from learning.

Or are there things that need to be added to the environment to foster success. Things like visual organizational aides, planners, computer, timer, visual calendars to keep track of long term assignments, deadlines and activities etc.

Pairing a student with poor executive function skills with teachers or support staff that is highly structured and adept to teaching students organization skills.


Change or Modify the Nature of the Task



Prompting Strategies that may be used by the teacher or parent



Teaching Executive Function - Planning and Setting Goals



Setting short- and long-term goals:



Model planning process:




Teaching Executive Function - Organizing and Prioritizing





(well-structured so ideas can be translated into paragraph form)

*** Insert template for writing ***


Note Taking:

*** Insert template for note-taking ***



Shifting Flexibly: Cognitive Flexibility or the Ability to Shift Mindsets

Practice identifying multiple meanings in newspaper headlines, jokes, and riddles.

Ask questions:



Self-Monitoring and Self-Checking

Need to teach students how to check work and what to check for.

Provide explicit checklists:


Journal - How to get a 5 !!!


* Print neatly.

* Skip a line for editing.

* Indent paragraphs.


  • Topic Sentence
  • 5 or more details

0 0 0 0 0 / 0 0

  • Concluding sentence

Go Back & check for:

  • Capitals
  • Periods
  • Indented Paragraphs
  • Neat writing
  • Date in pen
  • Circle misspelled words

        (check with adult)

  • Staple to reading contract.

Yea! You are finished with your journal!



Create a Culture of Strategy Use
Consistent and embedded:



Executive Functioning skills are not just needed by students with ASD.
These skills need to be explicitly taught to all students!