Sunday, December 25, 2011

Is Your Kid Disorganized? What Can You Do?

English: A child not paying attention in class.Image via Wikipediaby Lynne Castino

Children with disabilities like ADD, ADHD, Mood Disorders, and Autism have lots of difficulty with organization. This is because these disorders affect the Executive Functioning part of the brain.

It’s very frustrating for parents and teachers to try to help these kids learn organizational skills. It’s just as frustrating for kids to always feel like they’re not prepared and not ready for what they need to do. But there are things that can be done. Children with these types of disabilities can learn strategies and techniques for independent organization.

Think about the last time you were in the grocery store and you realize you left the list of groceries on the kitchen table. You feel unprepared as you go through the store trying to remember what was on the list, hoping you don’t forget something you really need and pretty much just trying to get it done, but knowing you’re not doing a really good job.

You feel stressed and anxious because you’re wandering up and down the aisles randomly choosing things from the shelves. Going back down aisles numerous times because something in another aisle reminds you of something you’ve forgotten. It takes you twice as long and you spend too much. Then you get home and look at the list and learn that you did indeed forget things and will have to go back.

This is how our kids feel every day. They get to school and they’ve forgotten their homework, or their book. They can’t find their assignment book. They know they were supposed to have something for their math notebook signed by mom, but can’t remember what.

They start to get stressed knowing they’re going to get in trouble or even worse that they will get to class and not be able to participate because they don’t have their book. Their brain is thinking that they don’t want to tell the teacher they forgot it again and that causes them to miss out on what the teacher is saying to the class and now they don’t even know what is going on. It’s a vicious cycle. How can we help?

We can help by helping our kids to have good habits at home. After school, unpack the backpack and look at everything that needs to be done. Review the assignment book. Assignments should be in folders or binders, preferably colored for each subject.

My son used an accordion file with different colored tabs for each subject. Then he only had to keep track of one item that went everywhere with him. He would put all papers in it in the proper section. Find what works for your child and stick with it. Help your child make a plan for the evening based on what needs to be done.

When finished have him put everything back in the appropriate folder, etc., and then back into the backpack. Place the backpack in the same spot all the time. I recommend a hook right near the door. Do this at night before bed, so everything is away and you’re not scrambling in the morning.

If your child is involved in any activities, have a bag for every activity to keep all of the needed supplies together. I suggest a soccer bag for soccer stuff, a baseball bag for baseball stuff, etc. You don’t want to get to the big game and not have cleats (this has happened to me. Two hours away from home and we are hunting for a sports store to buy a pair).

Plus you don’t want to hound your child throughout the day to make sure they have everything. As I like to remind parents, we won’t be there forever to remind them, let’s help them be independent. We can’t follow them to college, I’ve tried but for some reason my kids object.

I used to have to remind my son every morning about 30 times to brush his teeth, comb his hair, get his shoes, and get his homework. I’d send him upstairs to do 3 things and it never failed, he would come down only having done 1 or 2. So, to help him be more independent, I purchased a write on wipe off board and placed it on his bedroom door.

He wrote on it the things he needed to do in the mornings. He wrote, ‘Brush Teeth, Comb Hair, Get Shoes, Get Gym Bag, and Feed Fish’. He would then check them off as he had done them. Erasing the checkmarks at night. I never had to remind him of what he had to do again. He is independent. Our mornings are much nicer and there is much less stress for him when he gets to school.

He can even add things that don’t relate to school that he wants to do, like call his friend to go to a movie or rent a video game. Of course, he still occasionally forgets something, (the disability never goes away), but it only happens once in a great while and let’s face it we all forget things sometimes.

Not all things work for every child, but keep trying things and you’ll figure out what works for your child. Give each thing you try at least two weeks before giving up and trying something new, don’t forget, we’re trying to help our child learn a routine which takes time. I now put my list in my bag as soon as I’ve finished writing it. I rarely forget it on the table. And my grocery shopping is much less stressful. Good luck.

About the Author

Lynne Castino has been advocating for children for over 15 years. She is a public speaker, trainer, author, and advocate working with families throughout the Southcoast of Massachusetts. Visit her website at or email her at
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