Autism, executive function, and … school

In case it seems like the hallways of The Silent Wave have become ghostly lately, I can explain (grin).

I have decided to go back to school, as some of y’all know, for a Masters degree.

It’s hard to go back to school as a grown-up, especially when you’ve been out of the School Mode for nearly a decade, and especially when you’re … autistic.

Well, that’s the case for me, anyway.  Far be it from me to speak for anyone but me, because me is all I really know, and sometimes I even question how solidly I know that much.

These past two weeks have certainly proven to be an exercise in Let’s Put That Executive Function To The Test.  Rubber, meet road; money, meet mouth.

The first hurdle for me so far has been the workload that has increased overnight, the pure taxation on my brain’s resources.  I’ve been drawing from energy reserves I didn’t know existed, and still can’t ascertain the depth.  Or cubic measurement.  Or something.

Suddenly, there was so much stuff to get done.  It started off innocently enough, with 500-word essays about my journey and what led me to an interest in this particular degree program.  Once I got wind of my acceptance (yay!), the To-Do List ballooned; suddenly (there’s that word again), I had accounts to set up on six different websites, communities to join, syllabi to familiarize myself with, a plethora of due dates and deadlines to commit to memory, and new reading material to absorb.  Oh, and in the US, if you’re enrolling at any college/university from 2013 onward, there’s a new Title IX seminar requirement.

It’s an accredited online program, offered by a physical school, so bend the rules they do not.  And we hit the ground running straight away.  Grading rubrics (I’ve even learned new words, and “rubric” was one of them) were more loosely applied during the first week, in order to allow everyone to acclimate themselves, but they’ll be strictly enforced from this week on–starting this week, Week 2 of a ten-week quarter.

The second hurdle for me to deal with was the abrupt-and-drastic change to my daily and weekly routines.  With all these Due Dates and Deadlines looming, there is never a dull moment, and hardly time to breathe, at least until my brain shuts off around 6-7pm.  Even weekends aren’t necessarily spared; they can be fair game for scholastic activities, too.  It seems as though we wind down on one set of To-Do List items, only to whip our heads around to register and prepare for the onslaught of new tasks that the coming week will assuredly deliver.

While the journey is young, I can safely say that so far, it has fully tested my executive function.  I tried to prepare myself as best I could.  This preparation began with my second of two interviews during the program application process, which involved speaking one-to-one with the program director.  He asked me if I had any questions, and I tried to pare them down as best I could; one of them was something along the lines of “tell me about a typical week in the program”, and he gladly obliged, for which I was grateful.  This gave me a bit of a “forecast” for which I could prepare.

And prepare I did.  I whipped out my mobile, pulling up the Notes App, and started a new Note, aptly entitled “School Stuff” (makes sense, right?).  In that note, I made myself a rolling weekly to-do list, where I wrote things like, “Monday – log in, check (school) email, address any urgent announcements that need action, check the reading assignments for that week, and watch for discussion subtopic assignments.  Begin to do research on subtopic write-up.”

A lofty-expectation day, but doable.  Tuesdays would focus on my other class (I’m taking two classes; both are monsters, for a total of 9 credit hours), because that’s when the assignments and online quiz for that class would be due.  Wednesday, it’s back to my other class, to write and post my subtopic write-up by Thursday, and Friday would consist of replying to another’s post in the discussion forum, for the purposes of offering corrective feedback.  I still have to check in on weekends at this point, to see how everything went over and address any feedback questions from the professors.

Good times.  But hey, at least it’s predictable.  And at least the program involves one of my “special interests” (i.e., areas of particular interest, or topics of interest, you get the idea…) 🙂

Since the program is entirely online, and the school is physically located in another state two Time Zones away, I obviously don’t have the option of attending–nor the obligation to attend–class at set times per day or per week.  This also means, however, that I don’t have the benefit of having my day/week structured for me, either.  Thus, I have to rely much more on my own motivation and my own self-set structure, by way of my to-do lists.  It’s all me, and it has required a fair amount of self-startership.

A third hurdle is my Aspergian/autistic tendency to lose the proverbial forest while focusing on the trees.  In Real Life, this means that sometimes I might get caught up in the happenings and deadlines of the current week, at the expense of (meaning that I can lose sight of) the rest of the quarter.  Sure, it’s important to focus on the tasks of the present and the immediate future, for they are more urgent and relevant to Right Now.  But to focus so intently on a narrow part of a whole can be risky.

I found a way to combat/address this!  I went looking online for fillable 2018 calendar templates–usually in Microsoft Word or Excel format–that you can save to your own hard drive and fill them in with your own goings-on, for your own individual purposes.  I was in luck!–I easily found a bunch and downloaded one.  I poured through my due dates and deadlines, sprinkling my new calendar template with them, color-coding them according to class (I assigned each class its own color), and highlighting especially-important deadlines, such as midterm and final exams, in red.

To help avoid any Executive Function Issues even more, I also populated certain days with “do X quiz” or “complete Y assignment” several days ahead of the due date, so that I wouldn’t be rushing at the end.

I found it important to do all this near the beginning of the term, while I was thinking (worrying) about it, it was swirling around in my head in a state of pure chaos, and I had the desire to invest the time in mapping everything out.

I wanted to go in prepared.

And it looks like it’s extra-important that I do…

…Because when I went for my formal Asperger’s/autism diagnosis, I used my maiden name as my last name, for purposes of anonymity, the (important, to me) reasons for which I’ve explained before.

Here’s the potential bug in that code: if you ever need accommodations later, and you’re relying on that diagnosis documentation to prove your need, and your diagnosis is in a name that’s different from your legal one, and your psychologist “poof!”s off the face of the planet…

…you’re screwed.

So at this point, without documentation in my legal name, I’m going through school, once again, unsupported, meaning No Accommodations.

This may mean that I have to try and get another formal/official diagnosis, if I decide it’s important enough to me to be able to land some official accommodations from my school.  (I don’t blame them; they have to do what they have to do.  I don’t blame myself, either; I didn’t know my psychologist was going to disappear.  I don’t even blame my psychologist, really; Life Happens, and I don’t know his story; he seemed to be a pretty earthy, sensible guy when I was working with him, so there may well be a valid reason for his vanishing.  I do hope he’s OK, though.)

When life hands you lemons…. ah screw it.  Make chocolate!  (Lol)


  1. Wow, you’ve had a heck of a lot going on! Downloadable/printable to-do lists and calendars etc are great for feeling a little more in control and organised. Good point about the name change and diagnosis though as so much formality and red tape can come back to bite you if there are discrepancies with anything. For the record, I think you are managing things incredibly well, doing the best you can, learning as you go, and rocking it. Deep breath.. you’ve got this!! 🙂
    Caz xx

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, girl! 😘❤️. Yeah I’m really sorry that I’ve been so out of touch these days 😳💞. I’m doing pretty well; getting into the swing of things with school, and adopting a couple kittens this weekend 😁🐱🐾❤️😍. Also went looking at different gyms today; I need to get back into shape, in terms of body as well as brain 😂.

      How are you, dear one? 💜💗💜

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Don’t forget to sprinkle a few “rest” days on that calendar.☯ Make sure you take care of yourself and don’t burn out😘 Definitely go for the chocolate 🍫dark, of course 👍 You totally got this!! 💪✨🎉🎊🍻💞🌻💞🌻💞☮🌻😎

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah! Thank you bunches, Dearest Dude! You’re probably going to chuckle – I made a daily “self-care log” section in my personal journal 😁. In that section, I detail the specific activities (or non-activity/rest time) I took for myself that day 👍🏼. Because you’re absolutely right; burnout is a Thing. And chocolate is what god(dess) created on the 8th day! Lol 😉😉. Thank you so much for cheering me on, Cosmic Sis 😘😘😘💖🌟💖👍🏼👏🏼😉💗🍀🌸🌟🐾🙏🍻😍

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Surely you can produce your marriage certificate (and birth certificate if needed) to prove who you are? Don’t know about the US, but in the UK the marriage certificate belongs to the one who changed their name, as proof of who they were/are. Worth a try? 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I love your attitude! (trying to find the positive and using sarcasm for what sounds like it could be very overwhelming)…as far as using your maiden name, could you not just take in your marriage certificate ( or send in) to prove that you are indeed who you say?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, dear one! 💗. I know that feeling; I couldn’t do it last year. I’m still a little overwhelmed, but getting used to it a bit more 😊. It’s funny–I’m really super organized in certain areas of my life, and absolutely unorganized in others 😂🙏💖

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds like you’ve really got a lot going on at the moment – good luck with it all! Your calendars sound awesome. I’m still struggling with proper to-do lists, I’m doing them in a sort of half-hearted way. I thought I’d give bullet journaling a go. Haven’t done it yet, just an idea, but one that appeals to me, chiefly because it would be an excuse for buying a new notebook…mmmh, stationery…
    Yes to chocolate, definitely, and I’m with King Ben’s Grandma on favouring the dark variety.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow! Bullet journaling sounds really cool (reminds me of Bulletproof Coffee? 😂). Mmmm…stationery!! Ok, this’s good; I thought I was the only one who salivated over the very thought of going into a stationery or office supply store!! 😍. I loved them even as a kid 😂. And a big 10-4 to the dark chocolate!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼. I used to like milk chocolate better, but now I’m all “ewwww”, because I’ve discovered the wonderful world of the dark variety 😍. Thank you so much for your warm words, my dear! 🤗💖🌟💖🌸🍻

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh no, stationery is definitely droolworthy, and I think there are quite a few people who think that.
        I don’t think I’ve heard of Bulletproof Coffee, but I’ve heard of caffeine bullets. I also know cowboy coffee: take a pound of ground coffee, moisten with hot water, put a horseshoe on top. If the horseshoe sinks, the coffee is too weak.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Omg sweet! I hadn’t heard of that! Mmmm 😁. Lol with the stationery 😊. I even get a little excited going through the different word processing templates on Mac Pages (the old version, iWork 09, was much better lol), although it’s not the same as being able to feel the different types of paper and all that 😉💞💜

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe I totally know the feeling. I’d be so lost and stressed out if I hadn’t taken that time to lay everything out in one spot like that 😊. Homeschooling–yeah!! How cool! If I had children, I would totally do that 😁😁👏🏼👏🏼❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Calendars and planners- my tip is a calendar with post it notes. Deadlines are written in pen, but the “internal due date” is on a post it note. So it can move if life doesn’t go according to plan!

    Liked by 2 people

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