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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Schellander

Strategies to empower people with executive dysfunction

Are you a caregiver of someone who struggles with executive functioning? It's important to understand the challenges they face every day. The fundamental skills related to executive function include proficiency in adaptable thinking, planning, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory, time management, and organisation.

These challenges can impact every aspect of the individual's life, from school and work to relationships and self-care. There are strategies that caregivers can implement to support those who struggle with this condition. With patience and understanding, caregivers can support those with executive functioning challenges to lead fulfilling and productive lives

1. Understand the diagnosis

After being diagnosed with a condition like ASD, ADHD or executive dysfunction, it can be a lot to take in. Suddenly, the individual may feel like they have a lot more to manage and cope with. However, it is important to remember that receiving a diagnosis can also be empowering. Once you know what you are dealing with, you can begin to develop strategies for managing the symptoms. So, even though it may be difficult at first, try to remain positive and view the diagnosis as a step towards better understanding and managing the condition.

2. Seek professional advice

When it comes to executive dysfunction, seek a therapist who specialises in this area. Many neuro diverse people find that working with a therapist supports them in managing 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 coping strategies.

3. Develop a support network

Friends and family members can be a great source of comfort, but it’s also essential to connect with others who understand what you’re going through. Joining a neuro diverse support group or online community can provide you with the chance to share your experiences and connect with others who are facing similar challenges.

4. Create a realistic routine

Having a daily routine can help people with executive dysfunction feel more in control of their day-to-day life. They can document their routine for the week or create a visual schedule. This can help especially when they feel overwhelmed or stressed. Setting alarms or reminders on their phone to remind them of upcoming activities can also be used to supplement their schedule.

5. Simplify everyday life activities

For people who are neuro diverse, everyday activities can become overwhelming. One way to simplify their life is to break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. For example, if they are feeling inundated 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 support them to see their progress, rather than feeling like they are constantly falling behind. In addition, try to focus on what's truly important to them, and let go of anything that isn't adding value to their life. 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 can all be good ways of helping neuro diverse people to understand what is going to happen and when. Something as simple as a to-do list can provide a much-needed 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 and other tools, people can stay on track and make the most of every day.

7. 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

For people with executive dysfunction, their tendency to hyperfocus can 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. Find an activity that they enjoy

There are many everyday household activities that people enjoy. Some people enjoy cooking, while others prefer gardening, general tidying or doing the laundry. Whatever the activity, it is important to find something that brings happiness and satisfaction to kickstart a cleaning spree. Whether they play music in the background while they put clothes away or quietly reflect on their day ahead while they wash their dishes. As a reward for their hard work, they can take a break to read a book or play their online game.

10. Give them credit

As a caregiver, it's easy to get caught up in always looking towards the future and thinking about what we need to do 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.

The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) is a world-renowned evidence-based social skills treatment program that can make a big difference in the lives of adolescents and adults with social challenges, including executive dysfunction. PEERS® is a parent/caregiver-assisted, 16-weeks social skills intervention that can support people with social challenges 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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