Many individuals on the autism spectrum encounter some aspect of difficulty with organization. Organization skills are a prerequisite for school success and should be explicitly taught to students with autism. Organization becomes increasingly more important as students progress through grades, as tasks are more complex, demands increase, and responsibility around self-monitoring is encouraged. The following are some steps and reminders when teaching students with autism organizational skills:
- Clearly define what is required. Avoid assumptions that all students on the spectrum are aware and know how to complete organizational tasks. Help students approach the task from an organized perceptive and how to plan the timeline. Bigger assignments may require ‘chunking’ material. Adults can help students plan this and model how it should look.
- Provide visual supports to students that help outline the task and/or activity. For example, how to schedule important dates within a calendar is a crucial skill to learn as children become adults. They lean to schedule their time, keep track of important dates, and places they need to go. How to use checklists and to-do lists are also important to teach students. This provides a visual support to keep individuals organized and visually represent the steps to complete a task or the list of items that require completion. Checklists can be created to help students complete assignments, papers, writing, reading, etc.
- Teach students that papers are not crumbled in a ball at the bottom of a book bag or locker and should be placed in folders or binders. A standard of work expected from teachers is important to learn for school and further work experience.
- Teach organizational skills in the environment in which it needs to take place. Many teachers attempt to set up different color binders or folders for different classes and set aside time each day to help the student go through papers, scheduling, and reminders. The student is provided with time they can focus on organization without the worry of other academic tasks. It also delivers explicit teaching in a small group or one-on-one environment.
- Teach how to prioritize. This skill is not natural to all students and some are not aware of the more important tasks throughout the day. Help students develop priorities and understand the biggest value associated with each priority. Especially difficult for students on the spectrum is learning the more desirable choices sometimes come last. Teach them to take small, scheduled breaks during the less preferred task to obtain the preferred items.
- These skills should be taught in small increments and may require additional reinforcement for the demonstration of skills. Students may receive or work towards a reward when homework is completed on time or when checklists are finalized.
- Although not common, teaching organizational skills could be included in the student’s IEP.