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Three Things to Keep in Mind

It’s January, and yes, all the holiday decorations and New Year’s glitter is gone, but in its place, there’s a marketing ploy at hand.

Get organized.

Storage bins of every size, color-coded files and boxes, cleaners and vacuums and new sheets are all on sale. Magazines promise an organized life in 5 simple steps. Getting organized is probably one of the top resolutions for the new year, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a New York Times bestseller for advice and how-to books.

Clearly, organization is a goal most people strive for. Some of us are good at it, others not so much. But children with complex learning issues have organizational challenges that are neurologically based and go beyond quick fixes. They struggle with the executive function skills that help people plan, focus, remember instructions and handle multiple tasks successfully. They are truly at an organizational disadvantage.

This can look and feel like a fiasco. Messy (often disastrous) bedrooms, misplaced clothes, homework half-done or not done at all, lost sneakers, late to school or appointments, forgotten permission slips, and more. And if you are also struggling to get into the organizational zone, finding the structure, systems and time to pull it together for yourself and your child can be difficult and frustrating. So, while trying to organize the unorganized, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • There’s a lot of information and advice out there about helping kids with executive function challenges. Sarah Ward S., CCC/SLP is a nationally known expert who speaks at conferences across the country – check out her website at http://efpractice.com/. The ADDitude website has an entire section on Organization Help for ADHD Kids that could be applicable for any Complex Learner with executive function difficulties. Our previous blog post, Helping Complex Learners Manage Routine, may also be helpful. But whatever you read, remember – you know your child best. What works for one person may not work for another, depending on temperament, age, and co-existing diagnoses. Finding what resonates with you and your child may take a bit of time and research.
  • Sometimes you will think, my kid is just lazy, or my child is just manipulating me. These are ordinary feelings and reactions we all have as parents. Try to remember your child has neurological underpinnings that effect his/her behavior. This isn’t an excuse – there are strategies your child can learn and systems you can put in place to help. But it will take time. Patience and understanding will go a long way when working on solutions to organizational problems. And remember this is an ongoing issue – as new skills and behaviors are expected of your child, he/she will need to learn new strategies.
  • There’s no place like home – and it’s your home. If you are super organized and your child is not, declare your spaces (the kitchen, the living room, an office) that you insist on keeping organized but give more leeway with your child’s bedroom or a playroom. If you yourself have trouble organizing, give yourself a break! If the dishes aren’t done when a neighbor stops by, it’s ok. If you buy recyclable bags for grocery shopping but always forget to bring them, don’t worry. Prioritize the things you really need to get organized for yourself and work on them over time in the same way you are working with your child on his/her organizational goals.

Perfection is impossible, so in 2017, I suggest we strive for progress. And if a few storage bins or shelves will help, go ahead and get them now. I think they’re still on sale!

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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