The Autism Society Event and Education Recordings Archive

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5436 Autism and Executive Functioning in the Young Adult

Thursday, July 7, 2011: 10:45 AM-12:00 PM
Miami 3 (Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center)
People with autism often have impaired executive functioning skills and these deficits are pervasive across many areas of their daily lives. This presentation will address different areas of executive functioning and strategies on how to improve executive functioning skills in the lives of young adults with autism. Title:

Executive Functioning and Autism in the Young Adult: Strategies for Real Life

Griffith, Pennington, Wehner & Rogers (1999) defined executive functioning as the ability to maintain a problem-solving set for the attainment of a future goal. People with Autism have more impaired executive functioning than people with other developmental disabilities, and these deficits are pervasive.  Executive functioning deficits impact everything from completion of Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s) to succeeding in school, getting and keeping employment, money management, and time management.  Executive functioning skills include our ability to organize, plan, transition, shift attention, monitor our own behavior, sequence, inhibit behaviors, initiate actions, and hold and manipulate information in working memory.  People use executive functioning in all areas of their lives in order to be successful.  Students with executive functioning deficits often struggle with disorganization, missing or incomplete assignments, late work, not asking for help because they don’t even know what to ask or being overly dependent because they don’t have the skills to be successful without extra help.  Individuals with Autism and executive functioning deficits also often have difficulties in the workplace or even procuring employment.   They struggle with difficulty finishing work, problems starting or staying on task, difficulty keeping track of work schedule, and struggles with keeping up with a changing, shifting work environment.  In terms of community skills, individuals with executive functioning deficits often have trouble adjusting to changes in their environment, get lost frequently, and may need training for socially appropriate and safe behaviors in public.  Additionally, a common area of difficulty for young adults with autism and executive functioning deficits is skills of daily living.  Many individuals with executive functioning deficits have poor hygiene, a sloppy appearance, and an inability to maintain a clean and orderly household.  The above issues are only a few areas negatively impacted by executive functioning deficits for young adults with autism.  This presentation will address these and other areas of concern as well as strategies that work and do not work to help improve executive functioning skills.  Specific strategies will be offered to address disorganization, emotional dysregulation, forgetfulness, inattention, cognitive rigidity, initiation and inhibition problems, time management problems, hygiene issues, and social skills related to executive functioning.  The presentation will give examples and walk the audience through the utility of specific tools such as planners and organizers and strategies for their daily use, visual schedules, checklists, protocols and scripts for assisting in ADL’s, social skills, and managing the demands of employment and school.  Strategies will also be offered for improving the organization of personal items, important documents, and general housekeeping, and how to use motivators towards non-preferred tasks to increase the likelihood that they are completed.  This speaker will also address issues related to building greater independence for the young adult with autism who struggles with executive functioning skills as well as setting long-term goals and thinking about lifespan issues.  The presentation will make use of case studies to help illustrate for the audience specific examples and strategies that can help improve executive functioning deficits.  The purpose of the presentation will be to offer real-life help and ideas for parents, teachers, caregivers, and therapists involved the in the lives of young adults with autism and executive functioning impairments.  The speaker will conclude with questions and answers as well as helpful resources and suggested readings relating to the topic.

Learning Objectives:

  • To gain a better understanding of the specific challenges individuals with autism face relating to impairments in executive functioning
  • To learn real-life strategies for improving executive functioning deficits in the lives of young adults with autism

Content Area: Life with Autism


Claire Dumke, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, private practice

Dr. Claire Dumke is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Denver, CO. She specializes in autism spectrum disorders with nearly 10 years of experience behind her. She provides therapy, consultation, education, and diagnostic assessments for children, adolescents, and adults with Autism and Asperger’s.