I’ve been thinking a lot about this thing called executive function lately and I have been watching Tate and Sydney try to problem solve. I have to jump in often to help them solve very simple problems they should be able to handle. By “should,” I mean they WOULD be able to handle these things if they did not have a disability. Executive functioning allows a person to sequence events, problem solve, multitask, get organized and make plans. One of my autism heroes, Temple Grandin, speaks about executive function on occasion. She has said, "I cannot hold one piece of information in my mind while I manipulate the next step in the sequence." Can you imagine? Can you imagine always being lost in the steps it takes to complete a project or deal with the unexpected things that come up in any given day? Not being able to organize your thoughts and make a plan, then follow through and execute the plan?
This afternoon I took Tate to get a haircut. Tate’s been going to the same barbershop for many years. If I can get a parking spot right in front of the door and if there is no wait for the barber chair then I just wave at the barber and Tate goes in alone lately. Today I had to park several parking slots away from the shop so I walked Tate in and sat down with him. Why? Because I couldn’t tell if there was a line from where I was parked. I knew if Tate went in and there was a line for the chair he would not have known what to do. He would not have been able to figure out when it was his turn because a line for the next chair in a barbershop is not really a line at all. Although our kind barber would have given Tate instructions, there would have been potential for Tate to misunderstand or become confused and he would have been nervous. Remember that tyrant we fight everyday called anxiety. He’s brutal. And so I walked Tate in mostly because he does not have the executive function it would take to figure out what to do in a crowded barbershop without help. But stay tuned for the rest of the story.
This morning, before we left for the barbershop, I decided to give the kids’ bathroom a make over. I took down the old, mildewed shower curtain and threw it out. Then before the haircut, Tate and I went into a department store and he helped me pick out a new shower curtain and rug for the bathroom. We went with a fish theme, by the way. When we got home from town, I got busy with some chores. And then I realized I could hear the shower running. Tate was taking a shower without the curtain up. He always goes right to the shower after a haircut but I had not thought about it. (Where were my executive functioning skills?) Of course, the bathroom floor was standing in water by this time. I do not often lose my patience with Tate but I scolded him in my frustration. I know better than to do this but I did it anyway. I talked to Tate about what a mess he’d made. I told him he could have used other options and discussed those with him. He could have taken a shower in a different bathroom or waited. He could have asked me to put up the shower curtain right away too. None of those things had occurred to him. There was no executive function. And then when he saw the mess himself, it never occurred to him to clean it up. It probably never occurred to him that anyone would need to clean it up. There was no executive function. And because of my lecture to Tate about the mess he had made, he is perseverating about it. Not so much because he made a mess but because I was aggravated he made a mess. I’ve assured him several times that all is well and the mess is cleaned up and the new shower curtain has been hung. All is right again. But, he cannot get past the fact that I was annoyed with him and told him about it. Texts have been flying as he needs to let his siblings know of the injustice he received.
This evening we were sitting at his school in an assembly to kick off the beginning of the school year. Tate leaned over to tell me that sometimes teenagers make messes. I said, “Tate, can we drop it now? It’s ancient history.” He said, “Messes are not history. I know a lot about history. Al Capone robbed a lot of banks and then he died in jail. That is history.” And there we have it. Tate made a mess that was easily wiped up. It was only water. I made a mess that will take days to clean up because I used words. Tate is not the only one who sometimes lacks executive function. I could use a little more of that myself. I wonder if Al Capone lacked executive function?
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