Children with ADHD often struggle with organization.
They lose notebooks or papers, do not consistently have writing implements or books when they need them, and their desks and lockers are very messy and cluttered.
The following strategies have been found to be helpful in working with the ADHD child’s difficulties with organization:
Avoid blaming the child, teachers, or the parents for the difficulties that the child is having.
The child simply does not have the physical makeup to sustain attention as well as other children. It is no one’s fault.
Provide a great deal of structure and constancy.
For example, make sure the child has consistent seating arrangements, daily schedules, clearly defined rules and consequences. If resources permit, provide the child with a second set of books to remain at home for homework and studying. That way there is always a way for the child to do homework from home.
When homework is routine, a daily assignment sheet is essential.
DO NOT rely on the child to independently fill out this sheet. He will require a parent and teacher check to ensure that it is accurate and complete. Have a back-up system in place with the school for when the sheet does not get completed for more than two days in a row. Reward the child for bringing home the sheet and having teachers and parents sign it. Try to always identify positive things to write on the sheet.
Your child will need reminders to turn in completed assignments that might otherwise remain in the book bag or locker.
An assignment bin at school can be quite useful for the ADHD child. Having the child turn in their assignments to a central location first thing in the morning can be quite beneficial. This could include a special bin in the school office, homeroom, etc. Over time, the child can be taught to be more responsible for his/her work. For example, homework “bins” could be emptied twice a day, and then later more often. Your child will have to learn how to manage this responsibility in a step by step fashion. Again, rewards should be established for using this accommodation.
Make a home-work station.
At home, parents can help by keeping school-related materials in one place, like a desk or study area. Easy-to-follow rules and routines regarding where and when homework is to be done may be helpful. At night, the child can be encouraged to gather all of his or her school material and leave them in a book bag by the door.
What about junior high and high school?
Locker skills are a must.
Your child will need additional orientation to included planning specific routes between classrooms and practice opening lockers. It is ok to take some time to help your child at the start of each semester. You can plot out which books go to which classes, and when a return to her locker work best. Parental help with organizing and cleaning out the locker on a periodic basis will be necessary. Plan on doing this weekly. Assigning a “locker buddy” to help the child determine what books or notebooks go home each day also can make a positive difference.
Teach your child how to use lists, timers, and alarm clocks.
Have notepads available in key places around the house and car (kitchen, bedroom, car, bathroom, backpack). Practice with your child. Model how to make lists and ask for their assistance. Praise them for their involvement and use of making lists. Use their phones and i-pods.
Teach your child how to use an alarm clock and timer. Timers can be used for various tasks like homework. Teach your child how to set the clock and work for short amounts of time. Praise their involvement in this technique. All of these tools are on the computer, phone, i-pad, or around the house.
Keep organization a daily goal.
Have a checklist in their room of a few things that should be done every day at a set time (i.e., clothes off the floor, homework in the backpack, etc.). Don’t wait until the house is completely disorganized before suggesting that your child works on organization. Schedule time each week for the child to go through his desk, backpack, and notebooks to remove papers and items that are no longer needed. School papers should be filed in a binder in a section for each subject.
Give responsibility whenever possible.
Teach your child organizational cues and when to use them. The best teaching techniques are everyday practice. The goals is for them to use these strategies on their own. Some examples of questions that will help your child develop her own strategies include:
- “What helps you learn and remember new things? Lots of repetition? Saying it out loud? Telling someone else what you’ve learned?”
- “What are you supposed to do on this worksheet? How do you plan to achieve it?”
Consider using a coach or tutor for school work.
This helps your child obtain structure and assistance from someone else, while you can provide their support and encouragement. Some topics of assistance include: previewing, outlining, underlining, and a sense of mastery DURING the learning process. Repetition of these concepts is key.
Remember that organization is a skill. To some it comes naturally. To others it must be taught. Keep taking small steps to teach your child or teen, and they will be able to learn some simple and effective organizational strategies. Your child will feel much better and more capable in their world when they can start to become more independent and more in control.
Author: Cindy Anderson
Dr. Anderson is a Board Certified Clinical Child Psychologist. She also owns Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants. Dr. Anderson has achieved a high degree of specialization in working with children and families. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and completed APA Accredited internship and postdoctoral training in Clinical Child and Pediatric Psychology. She prides herself as a life-long student and tries to learn something new every day.
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