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Getting and Staying Organized


It’s back to school

Back to school means another year of challenges for the student with ASD who struggles with planning, organizing and prioritizing. Many students with ASD, even those with average to better intellectual ability, experience executive function deficits that negatively impact their ability to plan and organize. Difficulties can include poor time management and lost or misplaced materials.

How can we help?

Rather than address the problem after the student has experienced failure or alternatively assigning all problematic organizational tasks to an educational assistant, consider the benefits of teaching the student to utilize an organizational system that he participates in developing.

Consider the following tips to help set up a system for your child or student:

  1. Set up a meeting that includes the teacher(s), student, parent and educational assistant (if one is involved). Compile information about the structure of the classroom (i.e.. daily schedule, expectations, rules) or, in the case of older students, the timetable and subject-specific assignment and evaluation procedures. This information will be critical to identify what type of organizational supports the student will need, for example, multiple notebooks versus a single binder with loose leaf paper; homework support at school; a specific type of planner (consider some of the apps on newer smart phones), etc.
  2. Set up a daily/weekly schedule with your student that specifies when and where homework time will occur each day. Discuss with the student the importance of choosing a time that will work best for him. Remember to schedule in preferred activities as well, to avoid having the student see t he schedule as a adult imposed “to do” list. Schedule homework time when someone is available to help. Ask the teacher for a list of things that student can do during scheduled homework times when there isn’t any assigned homework (e.g. reading ahead in a text book). Many families identify a homework time for 5 days a week… typically Sunday through Thursday.
  3. For younger children, it is often the loose pieces of paper that are problematic. Notices and worksheets are less likely to be lost if the student has a standard place in which to put them. Consider a transparent pencil case that has a ring to clip into a binder. Label it NOTICES. The teacher or educational assistant can initially remind the student where to put notices until the habit is ingrained. The underlying rule is to teach the student that there is a specific place for everything. Use labels to help make the expectations transparent, so that the student and those who support them all use the same system.
  4. Schedule in a time each week to do desk, locker or back pack cleanup. Although ideally the student should be encouraged to throw out what is unnecessary or garbage (e.g. food wrappers) immediately, it can help things from getting out of control if a weekly purge is scheduled.
  5. Be patient. Organizational difficulties are common in those with ASD and are not necessarily a sign of apathy or laziness. Calendars, planners and visual time lines can help the student continue to develop an understanding of the importance of organization and can develop familiarity with the tools they will need for a lifetime.

Promoting Executive Function in the Classroom (What Works for Special-Needs Learners) 1st Edition
Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential Paperback – January 2, 2009