Executive function labels

The Danger of Labels

People often find me and my work because of a label they have been given. Typically it is “executive function deficits.” Testing or evaluations were sought out to explain “why” a certain child or an adult has been struggling or failing to meet the expectations for school or work. From these evaluations people often end up with multiple labels. ADHD, poor working memory, anxiety, slow processing speed, Autism spectrum, dyslexia, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression are some of the labels applied to the clients I saw this past week.

Labels can be very valuable because they give us an objective foundation for understanding a person’s behavior. They stop us from seeing an individual as having a character flaw. An example could be complaining that an executive function-challenged person is “just lazy” and not trying hard enough to get things done. The label of EFD places the blame on the wiring of the brain. This is good. Labels can guide us to use accommodations to support a brain’s weakness.

But you need to be careful with those labels. If you identify yourself as BEING the label, then you run the risk of having your life defined and limited by it. If you aren’t careful, labels can end up becoming an excuse to let your brain run wild with your life.

Last week a client matter-of-factly told me: “I’m ADHD so my closets are a real mess.” I worry that her label has defined her to the point where she can’t believe that she can make different choices to change behaviors that are causing her pain.

My Limiting Label

I too have been struggling with a defining label, my age. I’m 64. All around me, family and friends are retiring. Yes, I can feel how aging is changing the way my body and brain function. It is NOT fun. I’ve been slipping into the mindset of: “I’m 64 so I can’t…. (lose weight, sign a new three-year lease, chase my dreams to help more people understand their brains and time, get a new degree…). This limiting label was putting me into a funk.

Reminding me that age is just a label!

My Texas angels, reminding me that age is just a label!

On a recent trip to Texas to do a Teaching Seeing My Time training, I was blessed to meet some amazing educators. One, Lucille, was a bundle of positive energy and is a bunch of years older than I am. She had one career as the leader of a school for children with learning challenges, and then, I am guessing around my age, took on building a non-profit dedicated to being a regional resource for children who have different kinds of minds. You can check them out at LinkED.

When we ate lunch together, I dropped the issue of retirement into the conversation, saying something like “I think my husband would like me to retire”. She slipped me a note, and a $2.00 bill, with the message that she wanted my husband to know that what I had created was more important than retiring. I needed to keep sharing. She also challenged me to follow my own advice to dream BIG. She asked me to make a FIVE-YEAR plan!

Well, that lucky $2.00 bill is staying in my wallet, along with Lucille’s kind words. AND I actually created a five-year plan that is both ambitious and exciting. Why not? Sure, I’m 64, and who knows how much time and health I will have in the future. I’m just going for the max until I have to stop, (with my dear husband’s encouragement). I’m not letting that age label prevent me from using my learned executive function skills to take LOTS of purposeful actions and meet my goals.

Do You Have a Limiting Label?

Do you find yourself thinking: I can’t do _____ because I’m _____? If so, don’t fight the label. Try embracing it, but don’t let it define who you are and who you can be. You are much more than your label. Figure out how to use strategies and tools and support to get around that label and live bigger. Why not?

Little by little…


About the Author Marydee Sklar

Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program® and the Set Up Success and Seeing My Time® planners. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.

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