Everyday Challenges for Young Adults With Executive Functioning Issues

By Kate Kelly

At a glance

  • Issues with executive functioning skills may continue into young adulthood.

  • Everyday tasks require skills like organization, planning and flexible thinking.

  • Your young adult child with executive functioning issues may need extra support from you.

It’s exciting to see your child move into young adulthood. But ongoing executive functioning issues may mean she’ll need extra support from you to take on new responsibilities. (These issues may also create problems around how much she’ll share about how things are going.) Here are some everyday challenges your child with executive functioning issues might encounter—and ways you can help.

Challenge #1: Staying on Top of Paperwork

As a young adult, your child may no longer have to keep track of school assignments. But she might need to remember to pay bills and keep track of vital documents like car insurance, bank statements and her passport.

Potential problem spots: Organizing and prioritizing

How problems might play out: As the mail comes in, your child has trouble sorting and prioritizing the important stuff. Bills and her driver’s license renewal forms get lost in the shuffle. And the insurance card and registration for the car never find their way to the glove compartment.

How to help: Work with your child to develop systems and strategies to stay organized. An online bank account can help streamline the bill-paying process. Getting paperless bills online can cut down on the number of physical objects she’ll need to organize. She can also set up automatic payments so she doesn’t have to remember to make them.

For paper documents, she can organize them into large envelopes or folder files. She can label these and keep them in alphabetical order. A desk drawer or plastic bin can serve as a file cabinet. (The drawer can also house pens, stamps, and other supplies so they’re right there when she needs them.)

Challenge #2: Troubleshooting in Unexpected Situations

More independence often means more things that don’t go according to plan. For your child, being able to stay calm, think on her feet and adjust is the key to handling the curves life throws at her.

Potential problem spots: Flexible thinking and emotional control

How problems might play out: Your young adult child needs to get to work and the bus doesn’t come. Or she’s running errands and gets a flat tire. She’s so upset about being late for her job or about the state of the car that she can’t come up with a plan.

How to help: It’s hard to anticipate every situation that could go wrong. But try to help your child develop a flexible mindset. Help her get into the habit of thinking about different options when faced with a mishap.

Suggest that she program important numbers into her phone. These might include her supervisor at work, a local taxi or the information number for mass transit. (Some transit systems have apps that allow you to view schedules and get updates.)

Run through a few “what if” scenarios and brainstorm solutions. And you can mention that you’ve always found it very helpful to take five deep breaths when you’re feeling stressed.

Challenge #3: Creating Structure and Schedules

Young adulthood means taking on—and keeping up with—mundane tasks and chores. But there are no deadlines for things like doing the dishes, so your child may not feel any sense of urgency. She’ll have to come up with a plan for working these tasks into her schedule and getting them done.

Potential problem spots: Planning, prioritizing, working memory

How problems might play out: Your child forgot to do her laundry and missed the recycling pickup. Now it’s Monday morning and she’s got nothing to wear, and the cans and bottles are piling up.

How to help: Visual reminders may keep her on track. You can suggest to your child that she hang up a large calendar that she can’t miss. She can also use the digital calendar on her phone to remind her to do things like take out the trash at a certain time each week.

You may also want to suggest building everyday tasks into routines she already has. For example, if she always watches a certain show on Sunday night, that can be her cue to start the wash.

Challenge #4: Shopping and Living on a Budget

Buying groceries and clothes and paying for gas or a bus pass go with the territory of adulthood. Your young adult child has to anticipate what she needs while not spending more than she can afford.

Potential problem spots: Planning, prioritizing and impulse control

How problems might play out: Your child doesn’t have enough pants to wear to work. At the department store she sees a jacket she really likes and buys it—instead of sticking to what she needs and has budgeted for. Now she may not have enough money to cover other expenses.

How to help: Encourage your child to think through all of her upcoming expenses and prioritize. She’ll need to ask herself questions like, “How many nights am I eating at home this week?” “What clothes do I already have and what do I need for my new job? If I can only afford one outfit, how can I get the most bang for my buck?”

Making a shopping list before heading out will help her focus. You might also want to discourage her from getting a credit card until she’s proven to herself she can stick to a budget.

Challenge #5: Starting a New Project or Activity

Your child may have a lot of things she’d like to do. Activities like going on a trip, painting a room or throwing a party require planning and action. So does getting involved in social activities to meet new people.

Potential problem spots: Initiating tasks, planning

How problems play out: Your young adult child finds herself sitting around on weekends, wishing that she had a group of friends to do things with. Or she’s been invited to join friends on a trip to Mexico but hasn’t bought her plane ticket or applied for a passport.

How to help: Your child may be procrastinating because she doesn’t know how or where to start. She may need your help to break down the steps required so she knows what to do first. For example, find the online site to apply for a passport and download the paperwork. You might also help her outline the steps for finding activities where she’ll meet people with similar interests.

Issues with executive functioning may create new hurdles for your young adult child—at college or at work. But you can help her find ways around them. You may even be able to adapt some of the same strategies she used to manage the demands of school to help her handle day-to-day challenges now.

Key takeaways

  • Even now, your young adult child may need help keeping track of important documents and deadlines.

  • The calendar on your child’s cell phone can be used to remind her to do certain tasks at certain times.

  • Together you and your child can brainstorm strategies and solutions that help her manage new responsibilities.

    Tell us what interests you


    About the author

    About the author

    Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.