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Get organized!


What happens when we recognize that someone has serious problems with organization and that the source of the problem isn't laziness or lack of motivation?

In the author's experiences with schools, I have often observed that the 504 Plan or IEP makes all kinds of provisions for the teachers and parents to somehow compensate for the student's problem: the teacher is to record the assignments or check off that the student has recorded and packed them; the parent is to initial a notebook showing what came home and what got done, etc. The parents and the teachers, who are already more organized than the child, just engage in more organizing behavior without ever really teaching the child how to organize himself or constructively engaging him in solving his problem. Seldom do I see an IEP where there are specific goals and objectives listed that address teaching the child the organizational skills that he will need to function independently.

Who's going to carry him around when he's 30?

Unless you are willing to be following that child around when he's 30, you'd better start figuring out a way to teach him how to organize himself and meet his responsibilities.

There are two ways to view this problem. One is to say that the child needs our support, and that by supporting the child by providing the back-up copies, etc., we are reducing the child's vulnerability and doing A Good Thing. And maybe, along the way, the child will begin to do what he sees us doing and will develop the organizational skills. But if the child is feeling vulnerable and our taking care of all the organizational problems reduces that vulnerability, why will the child risk "blowing that" by attempting to organize himself? Even a child who is motivated to organize himself is likely to assess the situation and recognize that the adults are going to do a much better and more consistent job than he could ever do, so why even try?

Now consider another approach -- one in which we work with the child as their consultant or supporter to help them organize themselves. We let the child recognize and appreciate where their problems are and ask how we can be of help to them, assuming the best -- that they want to be responsible and organized. Often, the ideas or strategies that they come up with may be better than anything we could come up with and since they are now vested in the strategy, they are more likely to comply with it.

So we determine if they're motivated to organize themselves and offer our support. Within that context, there are a number of tricks or strategies that can be used. Hopefully, they will be used within in a context in which we are trying to support the child's efforts to organize themselves. We do so recognizing that there will be many 'failures' along the way, and that if we want the child to succeed, we have to make it emotionally safe for them to try and even to fail. We need to reduce their vulnerability and we do by reducing our own. As parents, teachers, or treating professionals, we are not responsible for doing the child's work. We are not responsible for 'nagging' them to do their work. If they tell us that they would find it helpful to have a reminder at a particular time so that they can start their work, we can provide that reminder. But we probably should stop at the point when our efforts are not experienced as support and become 'nagging' or confrontation -- particularly if they have mood lability or are otherwise prone to explosive outbursts.

One final note: students with EDF may benefit from computers or electronic organizers that incorporate calendars with repeating functions. How much better to teach someone that although he may not remember things easily, he can teach himself to rely on a computer as a memory prosthesis. We can teach most children and adults to program their own reminders on computers. Alarms can be set (by them) so that they stay in control of taking responsibility. Such devices become lifelong tools that enable independent functioning and can rightfully be considered assistive technology and/or a reasonable accommodation.



If you're feeling a bit "stunned" by what you're reading, that's fine. I get a slew of emails from parents and teachers who just went "wow" when they read this section of the site and realized that I was describing their child or student. They report that thinking about the child's executive functions has enabled them to take a different approach to dealing with problematic behaviors that interfere with school success. And I'm truly glad to hear that!


1 The author is deeply indebted to Sheryl K. Pruitt, M.Ed., for her input and contributions to this section, but the author retains full responsibility for any errors.








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