238: Executive Functioning Skills 101

238: Executive Functioning Skills 101

 

In this episode, I discusses what executive functioning skills are and how factors like sleep, nutrition, stress levels, menstrual cycle, and illnesses impact our ability to get things done. I also discuss the intersection between neurodivergence and executive functioning, the role that diagnosis plays in understanding neurodivergence, and how to seek help if you find yourself experiencing executive functioning challenges.

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238: Executive Functioning Skills 101

===

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: [00:00:00] Welcome to the top rated and award nominated Grad School Femtoring Podcast, the place for first gen BIPOCs to learn about all things grad school, personal development, and sustainable productivity. This is Doctora Yvette Martinez Vu, and I will be serving as your femtor, providing you with tips and tricks and everything else you need to know to successfully navigate grad school and beyond.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: For over 13 years, I've been empowering first gen students of color along their academic and professional journeys, and I'm really excited to support you too.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: This episode is brought to you by listeners like you. As many of you know, I started this podcast four years ago to provide a space to empower first gen BIPOCs as they pursue higher ed. Over time, I've also been able [00:01:00] to uplift voices of those systemically excluded from the ivory tower. Now that the show has grown, however, the podcast requires financial support to sustain itself.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If you are a loyal listener, you can provide a monthly or one time donation at the links provided in my show notes. And if you are a mission driven company or organization interested in sponsoring an episode, please contact me at gradschoolfemtoring at gmail. com so that you can learn more about my sponsorship packages.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If you found this podcast valuable in any way, shape, or form, I really hope you'll consider investing in the show. Every little bit helps. Now, back to the episode.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Grad School Femtoring podcast. This is your host, Doctora Yvette. Today I have an episode about executive functioning skills. It's a one-on-one episode just to. Share with you [00:02:00] what you need to know if you're new to learning about executive skills. This was a topic that was brought up in my grad school, femtoring academy.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I discussed executive functioning skills in one of my modules, one of the workshops that I share, and one of the. femtees had asked, you know, can you expand more on what executive skills are? And I thought to myself, well, why not share this with the podcast as well? So when we met, we had a live group coaching session.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I did talk to them about my take on what executive functioning skills are and the intersections of. These skills with neurodivergence and disability, and I wanted to kind of expand on that conversation a little bit more here so that way you have some understanding and can take this further in your own learning if you decide this is a topic that's of interest to you.[00:03:00]

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So what is executive functioning? When I'm talking about this, I'm talking about a term that's used to refer to cognitive processes also. Called thinking skills. And this, um, comes from the word execute. So if you think about the word execute and what it means, it means to do something, to get something done.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: That's what executive skills are. They're all the skills that you need to get something done. So to get from point A to point B. And this includes skills like planning and organizing, working memory, attention and focus inhibition, self-monitoring, self-regulation, emotional regulation and task initiation among many others.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: There's actually a wide range of, um, types of executive skills. And there there's. I don't think there's a cohesive set up number of skills. Every time I've done my own [00:04:00] research, I've read some of the literature. Different folks have a different number of skills. Some folks name eight dominant executive functioning skills.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Other folks will further expand on those and it'll be a longer list of skills, but just for. The purpose of today. Um, I mentioned some of the common ones, like the planning and organizing, like the working memory, like the task initiation, like the focus, uh, because these are some of the topics that come up a lot for me in my work.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Uh, working with clients who hire me to help them to improve their productivity, to set up some work systems, to find a way to work that feels good for them, that doesn't feel like they're just always kind of a. A rat on this wheel. I, I want folks to, um, find ways to work that feels good, that doesn't, uh, stress them out instead, um, a way to work that.[00:05:00]

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Really aligns with their mind, body, spirit. So at the root of some of the issues when folks approach me is that they are struggling with some sort of executive functioning skill. And I just wanna say this, I wanna say that if you struggle with executive functioning skills, it doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: We are all developing our cognitive processes. In fact. You don't fully develop your brain until your mid to late twenties. And so if you are listening to this and you are in your early twenties, and I know I've got a lot of undergrads who may not even. Maybe actually you may not even be in your twenties yet.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Just know you are still developing your brain. So it is understandable if you may, uh, have certain challenges when it comes to. Specific types of executive functioning skills, and we see this a lot in [00:06:00] children. I didn't learn about executive functioning skills. I didn't learn about neurodivergence. I say this time and time again, I didn't learn about this until my eldest child was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and this was seven, eight years ago.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And at that time. I didn't have access to the knowledge and the resources that I do now. It wasn't a topic that was coming up in conversation much, and so I had no idea what that meant for us as a family, what that meant for him in his life, for my child. I, I was due to it. I wasn't even aware about my own neurodivergence, about my partner's own neurodivergence.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: We learned about all of this and learning about. Our child and his specific needs and challenges and strengths, et cetera. So. In children, you might notice that because they're still developing their [00:07:00] brain and their executive functioning skills, it is completely understandable for toddlers to toddle. And by that I mean it's completely understandable for you to have a three major who is very defiant, who is uh, struggling to manage their.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: E emotions, uh, children need support in emotional regulation. You cannot expect a child to do the things the way that you do. You can't expect them to be tidy, to be organized, to manage their emotions, to, uh, not engage in risky behavior because they just don't have that skillset quite yet. They haven't developed it quite yet, but there are also, uh, moments where you might notice that a child.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Is actually, uh, needing additional supports than what's considered the typical or what's like the, the expected range of, of traits and behaviors for children based on certain milestones or markers per age. So, you know, [00:08:00] when you are a parent, you may go to an annual, um, pediatrician appointment. And usually the, the doctor will make sure that your child is reaching certain markers, growth markers, developmental markers, and if they are not, that's when there might be that question of, does this child need additional assistance and additional supports, uh, therapy, uh, different types of therapy.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Does this child need to be assessed for any types of, uh, developmental delays, disorders, et cetera? And so that's when you might have your child, uh, get assessed in a medical or a, um, educational setting for what a lot of people call, you know, disorders that fall under the umbrella category or the umbrella term of neurodivergence.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So this is where you see the autism, the A DHD, the [00:09:00] dyslexia. Uh, the bipolar disorder and so on. There's a lot of different types of, uh, what, you know, the Western medical industrial complex and fields of psychology and cognitive science might call disorders. Uh, but it's just, you know, you are. Your brain is functioning in a way that is different from what is quote unquote typical.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And just because something is typical is or is atypical. Just because something strays from the norm doesn't mean it's good or bad. Uh, doesn't mean that someone is smarter or not than the other. It just means you have, you have additional needs. You might have more supports. Uh, you might need more supports, not have more supports.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You might need more supports than others. And so that's where, um, kind of the, that's where I see the intersections of neurodivergence and executive functioning skills kind of intersecting a lot, is that there are some of us [00:10:00] who just need additional support. And, you know, that might mean that maybe you notice yourself struggling.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So much, and you're comparing yourself to the person next to you and the person next to you is not struggling as much as you are. That might mean that you have certain needs that are being unmet, and for that it might be necessary to figure out, okay, what is at the root of that need? What is the skillset that you need support in?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And also to receive the type of support you need. Is it necessary to pursue a formal diagnosis? Because one, I understand that. Not everybody has a privilege to be able to even get a diagnosis. Two, I also understand that in certain communities, especially communities of color, having any kind of diagnosis can lead you to potentially feeling unsafe.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And there's a lot of, uh, stigma associated with any kind of diagnosis. There's a lot of, um, myths and misconceptions around. [00:11:00] These types of diagnoses so I can fully, uh, respect and honor your choice to either pursue a diagnosis or to not pursue a diagnosis. There's also a whole other conversation around self-diagnosis, and I'm not gonna go into that conversation right now.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Although I just wanna say that I honor and respect anyone's decision to pursue diagnosis, no diagnosis, self-diagnosis. Uh, I just want to make sure that you do your research and that if something feels good and feels right for you to pursue that route. And so, for instance, I like to distinguish the fact that.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: The Neurodivergence term in and of itself is an identifying marker. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have been formally diagnosed with anything. It just means that you yourself have had a [00:12:00] lived experience where you know that you have had certain challenges and that you have encountered certain experiences that stray from the norm or from what is typical, and you, yourself.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Feel seen and heard and felt when you are in spaces with other self-identified neurodivergent folks. So if you're comfortable enough with identifying as neurodivergent, no, you do not need a formal diagnosis to do that. So just a heads up about that. The other thing I wanted to mention when it comes to executive functioning skills is that our executive functioning skills.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Shift all the time. They shift depending on the time of day. It is the day of the week, the day of the month, uh, how much sleep, sleep you've had, your nutrition, your stress levels. All of this impacts your executive functioning skills. And so it is not a surprise to me then that [00:13:00] there are so many people who are post covid or now that Covid is around developing chronic illnesses and are realizing.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: That this is impacting their executive functioning skills. This is impacting their ability to get work done the way that they used to be able to get it done before they developed their chronic illness. That's because chronic illnesses often impact. Your executive skills. So I just, I wanna mention that.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I also wanna mention when I said that, you know, it depends on the time of day, the time of month, for those of us that have uterus, your executive functioning skills are gonna be impacted depending on the. Point in your menstrual cycle that you're in, there's certain, um, stages in your menstrual menstrual cycle and within, depending on this is where, I don't know the science well enough to explain this, but depending on the shifts in your hormones each month, you are gonna notice a [00:14:00] shift in your, your executive functioning skills and how, well, how strong or not they are in any given point of the month.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So. I'll give an example just to kind of clarify what I mean. For me, I know that a week before I start my cycle each month, uh, a week before I menstruate, I start to notice a shift in both my chronic illness symptoms and in my executive functioning skills, it becomes harder to focus. I am low, I have lower energy.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I, um. My working memory is worsened, and because I've picked up on this, um, over time I've noticed it, I've become more self-aware about it. Now I can track it and I can anticipate it, and I can plan for it as best as I can. Obviously, I can't plan everything. I can't plan my entire life around it, but within, you know.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Within the parameters at which I can control things, I do try to plan for it. So [00:15:00] keep that in mind because it also does not surprise me. That there are studies that show that there is a huge spike in the number of women who are late diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 50, and they're diagnosed, um, with a DHD.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I find that super duper interesting because during that age range, 40 to 50 is when folks start to, um, get symptoms or experience what we call perimenopause and menopause, and. Because of the fluctuations in your hormones that happen during that stage of life that you're in, that also impacts your executive functioning skills.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And so folks realize, hold up, hold up. What is going on with me? Why do I feel so different? Why is, are things harder? They try to get to the root cause, try to figure it out. If they have access to doctors, they go see doctors, they go see their therapist. If [00:16:00] they have access to that, and at some point. Some of them realized, oh wow, I have been, I have been living with A DHD all my life, learned how to navigate the world with these challenges.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: But it gets to the point where, at that age, based on their symptoms and their fluctuating hormones. They can no longer, uh, function in the same way that they had learned to function in their childhood and in their youth. So keep this in mind because if you suspect that you are struggling with your executive functioning skills a little bit more, then the quote unquote neurotypical person, maybe you yourself are not neurotypical.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Just maybe I also don't believe in black and white, um, thinking, and I don't believe that there's only neurotypical [00:17:00] and neurodivergent folks. Um, you know, just like. There. I, I don't even, I hesitate to use the word spectrum 'cause I know that word is not always the most accurate. But, um, I don't believe in binaries, so I don't think that there's just, okay, you're neurotypical.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And you're neurodivergent. I think there's a broad range at which we all fall and some of us just fall a little further, closer to the neurodivergence side, and some of us fall closer to the neurotypical side. Just depends on what feels. Closer to what's most accurate for you. And I know these are all terms and labels and we have to be careful with this because, uh, there's a lot of pathologizing that happens and that goes around and pathologizing is not always helpful.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And we have to keep in mind that these diagnoses, these disorders, these terms have all been created by Western medicine. So there are [00:18:00] also. Um, non-Western terms and forms of being and identities that we might not even be aware of that might also align with our experiences and ways of being in the world.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So, all of this to say is that this is very complex, it's very nuanced, but at the end of the day, if you find yourself struggling more than the people around you, it might be worth. Uh, pursuing, um, getting some additional help. And when I say getting additional help, I mean, if you are able to and are comfortable with pursuing a formal diagnosis and you have that documentation, then perhaps using that documentation to help you request accommodations in your educational environment, in your work environment.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Um, it might also mean working. With, again, if you have access to healthcare with a medical doctor or a psychiatrist, [00:19:00] because there are medications that might help you with your symptoms and your challenges. Um, there's also other professionals, like occupational therapists. I feel like occupational therapists are so.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Undervalued in the field of, of, uh, therapy and receiving kind of supports because occupational therapists, when, when, when I thought about occupational therapists, before I knew all of this, I always thought about, oh, they're the ones that help kids who, who struggle with, you know, things like hand gripping or writing.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: But no, they do way more than that. They can help you to manage, um, and. What's the word for it? Like they can help you to modify your tasks and adapt your environment so that it works best for you. Uh, depending on, again, whatever your, uh, strengths and challenges are. There's [00:20:00] also coaches. I'm not gonna sit around here and not mention coaches.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I myself am a coach. Um, but there are some coaches who specialize in working with neurodivergent individuals. They use all kinds of names. You might find folks who call themselves, um, neuro affirming coaches, A DHD coaches, uh, autism coaches, um, academic coaches, productivity coaches. Executive functioning coaches, there's so many different, they, you know, the, the titles are not what matter.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: What matters is their experience, uh, with working with neurodivergent folks. And, um, they're the ones that can teach you tools and they're the ones that can provide a space for you to explore what works and what doesn't work as you pursue your goals. So keep that in mind that you don't have to. Keep struggling on your own.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If you are struggling. If you're not struggling, [00:21:00] that's great. Keep doing what you're doing. I'm glad that you are, you know, in a space where you're not just surviving, but you're thriving. And if at any point things start to fluctuate, remember this, remember that you can keep learning you. Um, you can actually keep strengthening your skillset, not at, um, just because you might have certain challenges.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And need certain supports doesn't mean that you can't keep developing that skill over time. There's a reason why I am super duper organized and, uh, annotate so many things because for as long as I can remember, I've had a really poor working memory. In fact, it has, it has gotten me into trouble. It has negatively impacted my friendships.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Um, how little I remember, uh, about any. Any instances, especially even important moments in my life, I just don't remember. I don't remember. And so because of that, I've been forced to learn these [00:22:00] skill sets of organizing and planning, annotating, et cetera, to help me to manage my life. So this is just, uh, one example of me sharing that.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: It is possible to get better at doing these things, uh, and to strengthen the skillset. And just because you can get better at it, it doesn't also mean that you can't receive supports and accommodations for it too. If you wanna keep learning a little bit more about. Neurodivergence about executive functioning skills about disability in general.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I'm going to be linking in the show notes a couple of books that I think might be useful for you to get started. Um, you know, I'm not gonna name them all, but there's at least. Five or six books that I know that I want you to consider reading about, depending on what interests you, whether it's the disability aspect of it, whether it's the neurodivergence aspect of it, or just in general [00:23:00] learning more about executive functioning skills.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Take a look at my show notes. See which book stands out to you the most. Check it out. Um, go to your local library. Use your library app to get the ebook or audiobook version of it. Or if you have the financial resources, purchase a copy of the book. Um, that's it for today's episode. I hope that you found it, uh, insightful.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: As always, please continue to do your research because I am not a therapist. I'm not a psychiatrist. I am not a cognitive scientist. Um, I am just someone who happens to have a lived experience that has, uh, allowed me to learn more about this work. So I've been learning about this for the last seven to eight years, and in that time, both learning about it.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Through my lens, my lived experience through my children, through my partner, and through the many, many people that I've supported who have chronic [00:24:00] illnesses and different types of, uh, neurodivergence. Um, I've learned a thing or two, and that's why I wanted to share this episode with you. Alright, that's it for this week. I'll talk to you later.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Thanks so much for joining me in the Grad School Femtoring Podcast. If you like what you heard, here are four ways you can support the show. The first is to make sure you're subscribed and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. The second way is to get your copy of my free Grad School Femtoring Resource Kit, which includes essential information to prepare for and navigate grad school.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can access it at the link in today's show notes. The third way to support my show is to follow me on social media. You can find me on Instagram with the handle at gradschoolfemtoring and on LinkedIn by searching my name. The last way to show your love is to sign up to work with me via my Grad School Femtoring Academy, my group coaching [00:25:00] program for first gen BIPOCs seeking to work on their personal growth and gain sustainable productivity skills.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can learn more at gradschoolfemtoring. com slash academy. Thanks again for listening and until next time.

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