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Autism Develop Planning and Organizational Skills

With the right support and strategies, individuals with autism can develop planning and organizational skills to help them lead more independent and fulfilling lives.

mark elias
Mark Elias
June 6, 2024

Understanding Autism and Executive Functioning

To effectively support individuals with autism in developing planning and organizational skills, it's important to first understand what autism is and what executive functioning skills entail.

What is Autism?

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects how individuals perceive the world and interact with others. It is characterized by difficulties in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it varies in severity and presentation from person to person. While some individuals may have significant challenges in various areas of functioning, others may have milder symptoms and excel in specific areas.

What are Executive Functioning Skills?

Executive functioning refers to a set of cognitive processes that enable individuals to plan, organize, problem-solve, initiate tasks, and regulate their behavior. These skills play a crucial role in managing daily activities, setting goals, and achieving success in various aspects of life.

Executive functioning skills encompass a range of abilities, including:

  • Planning and Organization: The ability to create and follow a plan, set priorities, manage time effectively, and keep track of tasks.
  • Working Memory: The capacity to hold and manipulate information in the mind and use it to complete tasks.
  • Flexible Thinking: The skill to adapt to changes, switch between tasks or strategies, and think creatively.
  • Self-Control: The ability to regulate emotions, impulses, and behaviors, and to resist distractions or temptations.
  • Problem-Solving: The capacity to identify problems, analyze situations, generate solutions, and make decisions.
  • Initiation and Task Persistence: The skill to begin tasks independently, stay focused, and persevere until completion.

It's important to note that individuals with autism may experience challenges in one or more of these executive functioning areas. Difficulties in executive functioning can impact various aspects of daily life, including academic performance, social interactions, and independent living skills.

By understanding the nature of autism and the role of executive functioning skills, we can better address the unique needs of individuals on the autism spectrum when it comes to developing planning and organizational skills.

Challenges Faced by Individuals with Autism

Individuals with autism often face specific challenges related to executive functioning, which can impact their daily life and overall success. Executive functioning difficulties refer to a set of cognitive processes that help individuals plan, organize, and complete tasks effectively.

Executive Functioning Difficulties

Executive functioning difficulties are commonly observed in individuals with autism. These challenges can manifest in various ways, including:

  1. Planning and Organization: Individuals with autism may struggle with planning and organizing tasks, finding it difficult to break down complex activities into manageable steps.
  2. Time Management: Difficulties in managing time can make it challenging for individuals with autism to prioritize tasks, estimate time accurately, and meet deadlines.
  3. Working Memory: Working memory refers to the ability to hold and manipulate information in mind. Individuals with autism may have difficulties with working memory, affecting their ability to remember and use information to complete tasks.
  4. Flexibility and Adaptability: Individuals with autism may find it challenging to adjust to changes in routines or unexpected events, as they may have difficulty shifting their focus or adapting to new situations.
  5. Self-Regulation: Executive functioning difficulties can impact self-regulation, leading to challenges in regulating emotions, controlling impulses, and maintaining attention.

Impact on Daily Life and Success

The impact of executive functioning difficulties on the daily life and success of individuals with autism can be significant. Some common areas affected include:

  1. Academic Performance: Executive functioning difficulties can impact learning and academic performance. Difficulties with organization, time management, and working memory can make it challenging to complete assignments, stay focused in class, and meet academic expectations.
  2. Independence and Daily Routines: Difficulties with planning, organization, and time management can affect an individual's ability to independently carry out daily routines, such as getting ready in the morning, completing household tasks, or managing personal hygiene.
  3. Social Interactions: Executive functioning difficulties can also impact social interactions. Challenges with flexibility, self-regulation, and problem-solving can make it difficult for individuals with autism to navigate social situations, understand social cues, and adapt to changing social dynamics.
  4. Employment and Career Development: Difficulties related to executive functioning can pose challenges in employment settings. Individuals with autism may struggle with time management, prioritization, and organization, which can affect their productivity and overall success in the workplace.

Understanding the specific executive functioning difficulties faced by individuals with autism is crucial for developing strategies and providing support to help them overcome these challenges. By addressing these difficulties, individuals with autism can enhance their daily functioning, improve their quality of life, and achieve greater success in various aspects of their lives.

Strategies for Developing Executive Functioning Skills

Individuals with autism often face challenges in developing executive functioning skills, which are essential for managing daily tasks and achieving success. However, there are strategies that can be implemented to support the development of these skills. Here are three effective strategies for developing executive functioning skills in individuals with autism.

Establishing Routines and Structures

Establishing routines and structures can provide a sense of predictability and stability for individuals with autism. Routines help in creating a framework for daily activities, reducing anxiety and confusion. Breaking the day into structured segments and having a consistent schedule can help individuals with autism better manage their time and tasks.

Routine Strategies

  • Morning Routine: Establish a consistent morning routine, including tasks such as getting dressed, having breakfast, and preparing for the day.
  • Afternoon Routine: Create a structured routine for the afternoon, including designated time for homework, chores, and leisure activities.
  • Bedtime Routine: Develop a bedtime routine that promotes a sense of calm and relaxation, including activities such as brushing teeth, reading, or listening to soothing music.

Breaking Tasks into Manageable Steps

Breaking tasks into manageable steps can make them more approachable and less overwhelming for individuals with autism. This strategy helps to enhance their ability to plan, organize, and complete tasks independently.

By breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, individuals with autism can develop a clearer understanding of the task requirements and progress through the task more effectively.

Task Strategies

  • Task Analysis: Break down complex tasks into a step-by-step sequence, providing clear instructions for each step.
  • Visual Task Boards: Use visual task boards or checklists to visually represent the steps involved in a task, allowing individuals with autism to track their progress and maintain focus.
  • Task Time Estimates: Teach individuals with autism to estimate the time required for each step of a task, promoting better time management and planning skills.

Visual Supports and Timers

Visual supports and timers are effective tools for individuals with autism to enhance their executive functioning skills.

Visual supports, such as visual schedules, calendars, and reminders, provide visual cues and prompts to help individuals with autism understand and remember tasks, events, and deadlines. Timers can be used to establish time limits for tasks, promote time management, and provide a visual representation of the passage of time.

Task Strategies

  • Visual Schedules: Create visual schedules using pictures or symbols to represent tasks or activities, helping individuals with autism follow routines and transitions.
  • Visual Calendars: Use visual calendars to mark important dates, appointments, and deadlines, providing a visual representation of upcoming events and supporting time management skills.
  • Timers and Alarms: Utilize timers or alarms to signal the start or end of a task, helping individuals with autism manage their time and stay on track.

By implementing these strategies, parents and caregivers can support individuals with autism in developing their executive functioning skills. Each strategy plays a vital role in promoting organization, time management, and task completion, ultimately empowering individuals with autism to navigate daily life more independently and achieve success.

Enhancing Organization and Planning Skills

Individuals with autism often face challenges when it comes to organization and planning. However, there are strategies that can be implemented to help enhance these important executive functioning skills. In this section, we will explore three effective strategies: using visual calendars and planners, implementing checklists and reminders, and teaching time management skills.

Using Visual Calendars and Planners

Visual calendars and planners are valuable tools for individuals with autism, as they provide a visual representation of time and help in organizing daily activities. These tools can be in the form of physical calendars, digital apps, or a combination of both.

By using visual calendars and planners, individuals with autism can gain a better understanding of their schedules and develop a sense of predictability. They can visually see their appointments, tasks, and events, which helps in planning and preparing for upcoming activities.

Benefits of Visual Calendars and Planners

  • Provides visual representation of time
  • Helps in organizing daily activities
  • Develops a sense of predictability

Implementing Checklists and Reminders

Checklists and reminders are effective strategies for promoting organization and planning skills. They provide a step-by-step breakdown of tasks and serve as a visual guide to help individuals with autism stay organized and on track.

When implementing checklists and reminders, it's important to break down tasks into smaller, manageable steps. This helps to prevent overwhelm and allows individuals to focus on completing one task at a time. Checklists can be created using pen and paper, digital tools, or even visual aids, depending on the individual's preferences and needs.

Benefits of Checklists and Reminders

  • Breaks down tasks into manageable steps
  • Provides visual guidance
  • Prevents overwhelm

Teaching Time Management Skills

Time management is a crucial skill for individuals with autism to develop. Teaching effective time management skills can help them better understand the concept of time, prioritize tasks, and allocate appropriate time for each activity.

One effective strategy for teaching time management is to use visual timers and schedules. Visual timers provide a visual representation of time passing, helping individuals understand the duration of tasks and manage their time accordingly. Visual schedules, on the other hand, help individuals plan their activities and allocate time for each task, promoting a sense of structure and organization.

Benefits of Teaching Time Management Skills

  • Enhances understanding of time
  • Promotes task prioritization
  • Develops a sense of structure

By implementing these strategies, individuals with autism can enhance their organization and planning skills. Visual calendars and planners, checklists and reminders, and time management techniques provide valuable support and structure, enabling individuals to navigate daily activities with greater ease and success.

Promoting Self-Advocacy and Independence

Individuals with autism can benefit greatly from developing self-advocacy skills and fostering independence. By encouraging self-awareness, problem-solving, and effective communication, parents and caregivers can support the growth of these essential abilities.

Encouraging Self-Awareness and Self-Reflection

One way to promote self-advocacy is by encouraging self-awareness and self-reflection. Helping individuals with autism understand their strengths, challenges, and emotions can empower them to recognize their own needs and effectively communicate them to others. This can be achieved through various strategies, such as:

  • Self-reflection exercises: Encourage individuals to reflect on their experiences, emotions, and reactions. This can be done through journaling, guided discussions, or visual prompts.
  • Strengths-based approach: Focus on identifying and celebrating the individual's strengths and unique abilities. By recognizing their strengths, individuals can build confidence and advocate for themselves.
  • Emotional regulation techniques: Teach individuals strategies to understand and manage their emotions. This can include deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, or engaging in activities that promote relaxation.

Building Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills

Developing problem-solving and decision-making skills is crucial for individuals with autism to become more independent. These skills enable them to navigate challenges and make choices that align with their goals. Here are some strategies to nurture these skills:

  • Structured problem-solving: Teach individuals a step-by-step approach to problem-solving. This can involve breaking down problems into manageable parts, brainstorming potential solutions, evaluating the pros and cons, and implementing the chosen solution.
  • Role-playing scenarios: Engage individuals in role-playing activities to practice problem-solving and decision-making in real-life situations. This can help them develop strategies to handle challenging social interactions or unexpected events.
  • Encouraging autonomy: Provide opportunities for individuals to make decisions and take ownership of their choices. Start with small decisions and gradually increase the complexity as they build confidence and competence.

Fostering Self-Advocacy and Communication

Effective self-advocacy relies on strong communication skills. By fostering communication abilities, individuals with autism can express their needs, preferences, and concerns more effectively. Consider the following strategies to support self-advocacy and communication:

  • Visual communication supports: Utilize visual aids, such as visual schedules, social stories, or communication boards, to enhance understanding and facilitate communication.
  • Social skills training: Offer social skills training to individuals with autism, focusing on effective communication techniques, such as active listening, turn-taking, and expressing oneself clearly.
  • Encouraging self-expression: Create a supportive environment where individuals feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas. Encourage them to share their opinions, ask questions, and actively participate in decision-making processes.

By promoting self-awareness, problem-solving, and effective communication, parents and caregivers can empower individuals with autism to become self-advocates and foster their independence. These skills will not only benefit them in their daily lives but also contribute to their long-term success and well-being.


Can individuals with autism really develop planning and organizational skills?

Yes! While individuals with autism may struggle with executive functioning, there are many strategies and supports that can help them develop these skills. It may take time, patience, and practice, but it is definitely possible for individuals with autism to improve their planning and organizational abilities.

What if an individual with autism has trouble with abstract thinking? How can they plan for the future?

For individuals who struggle with abstract thinking, it can be helpful to use concrete examples or visual aids when discussing future plans. For example, if an individual is planning for a vacation, using pictures of the destination or creating a physical itinerary can make the planning process feel more tangible. Additionally, breaking down long-term goals into smaller steps can make them feel more achievable.

Are there any technological tools that can help individuals with autism develop planning and organizational skills?

Yes! There are many apps and software programs available that are designed to support executive functioning skills in individuals with autism. These tools can include digital calendars, task lists, reminder systems, and more. Some popular options include Trello, Google Calendar, and MyLifeOrganized.

What should I do if my child or loved one is still struggling even after trying these strategies?

If your child or loved one is still struggling with planning and organization despite your best efforts to support them, it may be helpful to seek out additional professional support. A behavioral therapist or occupational therapist may be able to provide personalized strategies and interventions to help your child develop these important skills.


Developing planning and organizational skills can be a challenge for individuals with autism, but with the right support and strategies, it is possible to overcome these challenges.

Visual supports, breaking tasks down into smaller steps, using routines, and providing clear instructions are just a few effective strategies that can help individuals with autism develop planning and organizational skills. By using these strategies, individuals with autism can lead more independent and fulfilling lives.