This is the epic tale of how I fight a continuous battle against executive dysfunction.
Executive function (self-regulating skills) affects three key areas of a person’s ability to carry out a task: planning, organizing, and completing.
With executive dysfunction, one’s ability to understand how to do a task, get started, organize thoughts, focus, follow through, and process the different steps of a task are affected. As an Autistic, this is something I struggle with, not only in writing, but with any activity I do.
My story begins as always with the mysterious inner wizard enticing me with tedious errands – quests, if you will. I, being the wide-eyed adventurer, am excited to undertake any quest. Part of me would like to do all the quests at once. I am reminded I must do only one at a time – like this particular article, of course – a quest on which I can take you along.
My inner wizard then talks on and on and on, giving me all sorts of knowledge and helpful advice that might aid me on the quest. However, I eventually realize that all this time I’m listening to the wizard go on about endless lore concerning the quest and offering me his seemingly endless wisdom, I have not moved from that spot since the wizard began and have not made any tangible progress.
I now politely excuse myself from the good man’s company and move beyond the rambling wizard.
Knowing that there are many tests yet to come, I venture forth (with you alongside) until I meet the great monster at the mouth of the dark forest. The devious demon’s name is “Procrastinatus,” and he has many methods of sucking me in and barring my path to victory.
Procrastinatus tells me to be afraid, for the journey will bear many tedious struggles so frustrating that the prize simply won’t be worth it. Then he tries to divert me to the fun activities he has to offer – dumb YouTube videos, Netflix shows, anything that doesn’t involve me advancing. I do not fight hard, for I know there’s no real way of truly killing the beast. He makes no effort to slay me either; he simply wishes to keep me captive and harvest my energy. To get past him, it takes the willpower of a steam engine to drop the remote.
Eventually I break free of his spell! I push past him and make a rush for it, eyes on the prize. Oh, but how he pursues! The more I slow down, the more he speeds up. He catches me, and I am caught in his spell again. But each time gets easier to leap over him, and I get better at staying ahead.
Still, Procrastinatus is always in pursuit and has a legion of minions at his command to surround me and ensnare me.
The first line in Procrastinatus’ army of vicious denizens is the Distractites. There are two classes of Distractites: external and internal.
External Distractites lay siege to the senses – different things around me that I want to look at, touch, hear, or things I want to eat. I can combat these Distractites by limiting or organizing my surroundings.
The less ‘extras’ I have around me, the less power those external Distractites can have on me. I can also block out the sounds of the Distractites by donning earphones. The trusty earphones give me some resemblance of solitude. Still, those external Distractites whisper things to entice and ensnare me. “Chuck, look out the window.” – I lower the blinds. “Chuck, don’t you want to watch YouTube?” – Nope. “Chuck, don’t you want to check Facebook?”
One thing about Distractites is that their time-warping powers make me think ten minutes goes by when really it’s been more like an hour and a half. Still, with willpower, I remind myself that I really want to finish this quest and ignore my temptation for mediocre Internet distractions.
Now, more devious and vicious than the external Distractites are the internal Distractites. Those are the ones that seize dominion over my emotions. “Chuck, are you feeling anxious? Chuck, you’re getting depressed.” – I rationalize it as simply brain chemicals.
Fortunately, I have a strategy to counteract these internal Distractite attacks. I stick in my earphones and listen to special playlists to direct my mind. For example, feeling depressed? I’ve got a playlist called “Up Beats.” Feeling anxious? Try listening to “Mellow Songs.”
I have a playlist for pretty much any mood or occasion. The key is to have songs I’m already very familiar with, but not yet bored of – songs that can divert me from these troublesome distracting thoughts, but not too invasive to distract me from my work. With anti-distraction strategies in place, I can elude both classes of Distractites and continue on my quest.
Now, the next set of opponents I face on my quest are the “Tangent Tempters.”
The way my mind works, everything makes me think of something else. You probably had a conversation where you stay on one topic and then someone says something that reminds you of another topic, right? With writing, we begin with a broad topic and then several subtopics. Sometimes though, I will focus too much on a subtopic or even veer off on a topic that eventually reminds me of the topic I’m actually supposed to be on.
This is the work of the Tangent Tempters.
Fortunately, the wizard and I had already mapped out a clear out list of only the essential topics and subtopics. Armed faithfully with my well-crafted outline, I ignore those devious Tangent Tempters whose goal is to make my quest longer than it needs to be.
When it comes to a task or craft that an Autistic person cares about, many of us will often play the part of a perfectionist. When working on a special project, we will put the most painful and precise thought into every detail. Who could I blame for all this? The Perfectionist Pixies!
They buzz around my head and show me the weakness in everything I write. Maybe I glossed over a detail or am having trouble finding the right word to demonstrate my precise meaning. There are times when I spend twenty minutes just searching for the perfect word. I realize that this is a pretentious waste of time at a certain point, and part of me fears regretting submitting something less than peak excellence for the sake of time.
It is like I believe if I just spend enough time thinking about each word in such a precise, persnickety, poetic manner, I’ll produce a practically perfect piece that will provide me with such proclamation and prestige that I’ll be presented a Pulitzer and be perceived as a proud poet in his prime, pursued by publishers making proposals of mutual prosperity. It is this particular pompous pipe dream that the Perfectionist Pixies persuade me to pursue. Their pestering pressures me to pointlessly prolong this prattling and plunders my precious time. This persists until I finally petition the Perfectionist Pixies to let me ponder in peace and not partake in any further self-indulgence.
As I near the end of my journey, I face one more denizen of the forest – “Hasteus.”
Hasteus, the impatient fiend of shoddy work, urges me to throw together some wrap-up to this and any other written work. He tries to tempt me, reminding me that I’ve spent too much time on this tedious essay and suggesting that it would be nice just to have it done and over with. He tries to assure me that a rushed ending is acceptable, convincing me the endings aren’t really important and I can give you some subpar clincher.
Just to write this article I had to escape the entrancement of Procrastinatus, shield myself from a constant swarm of Distractites, avoid the luring of the Tangent Tempters, and appease a cult of Perfectionist Pixies! Now, at the end, I refuse to blindly give in to the demand of mediocrity of Hasteus himself.
Still, not wanting to be at the mercy of the Perfectionist Pixies et al., I negotiate an end to my executive dysfunction journey now, for I am admittedly weary of this quest and a few Distractites are on my heels in pursuit. I must rest and prepare for the next time that wizard calls my name and I’m off dodging Distractites once again.
The Autistic Experience
By Charles McIntyre