Book Review: The Organized Student
Disorganization is one of the hallmarks of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and it’s often a key feature of autism, Asperger’s and Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). But, the good news is that disorganization is one of those issues that can be managed with relative ease. The goal isn’t to turn your child into a filing, cleaning, organizing wunderkind, but instead to teach some systems to help your student develop a level of organization that allows for school success. A great resource for this is The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School and Beyond, by Donna Goldberg with Jennifer Zwiebel. (Simon and Schuster, 2005)
Although individuals with ASDs may be terribly disorganized, this weakness is frequently offset by strengths in analyzing and what Simon Baron-Cohen terms “systemizing”. The Organized Studentis set up in a way that takes advantage of your child’s innate abilities and problem solving skills to develop customized, personal systems for organizing at home and at school. Goldberg runs through the specifics of organizing lockers, backpacks, desktops and all those papers that come home. The strength of the book is the immense detail Goldberg goes into, while at the same time not setting up “one size fits all” solutions. She respects her students needs to have a system that works with their own abilities and that feels appropriate to each individual.
Many of the students I’ve worked with intend to start each new school year off right, organized and structured. But without a strong yet flexible system, the best intentions don’t work, and the students are lost in a sea of papers by October. If this describes your child, it might make sense to pick up this book now. Pay attention to each new teacher’s organizing requirements, adapt the book’s suggestions to fit your child’s own needs, and start the new school year off right.
Back to school is a stressful time, but it can be especially difficult for kids with ASDs and ADHD. But, now is the time to take a few steps to ensure more success this school year. The beginning of the year is the time to get organized, and to make new friends. Keep these tips in mind before going back to school.
1) The Unknown Can be Scary
Try to familiarize anxious kids with the school environment before the first day. Take a tour, figure out where the classrooms are, stop in to the office or walk by the homeroom. Some schools might even allow you to meet the teacher. Other schools publish a class list or have an orientation picnic.
2) Take Your Kids to School On the First Day
Most school are packed with parents dropping kids off on the first day. This is your perfect opportunity to meet other parents. Remember, lots of parents are uncomfortable with playdates if they don’t know the other parents. You want to start meeting moms and dads now.
Also, the teachers are looking for volunteers right now. Here’s a perfect opportunity for you to get involved at school and know the parents and teachers better.
3) PTA Events
Many schools have a PTA coffee on the first morning, another chance to get to know people. (Remember, the principal or office staff will probably be there. You want them to know you’re willing to help out and give back.)
4) Be Sure To Go To Back To School Night
Back to School Night is your first opportunity to find out what the teachers expect, how their classroom are organized and to show that you’re a concerned parent. You may not have a chance to hear from your child’s teacher until after the first report cards, so this is an important opportunity.
5) Discuss Lunchtime Plans with your Child
Lunchtime and the daunting cafeteria full of kids at long tables can be the scariest part of the day. I always suggest kids try to walk into the cafeteria with a friendly classmate if possible. Don’t dawdle or rush there! You child needs to be a part of the crowd now. Some kids bring a small lunch as well as some money so they can either go directly to the table or get in the cafeteria line, depending what their friends are doing.
6) Figure Out How to Communicate with the School
Every school is different. Some have a computerized communication system, others want everything on voice mail or through emails. Set up the system now, so it’s ready when you need it.
7) Plan for PE
Getting into PE clothes at school can be a stressful experience for shy kids. Find out the requirements at your child’s school and come up with a plan to make your child as comfortable as possible. The teachers may have some tips here, but be discrete. Don’t embarrass your child by discussing this publicly.
8) Back to School Clothes
Clothing makes a statement, and every school has it’s own style. Many kids don’t care what they wear, others want to be dramatic or different. That’s fine, unless your kids have struggled socially. If your child wants to make more friends, it makes sense to dress to fit in. (Don’t do all the back to school shopping early. Get a first day outfit, see what kids are wearing and then shop.) Popular kids set the trends, but less powerful kids may be ostracized merely because they dress too immaturely or oddly.
9) Give some Leeway at Pickup Time
After school is the perfect time for your child to chat with new classmates, or even plan an outing. Try to be there after school, so your child doesn’t have to wait, but set it up that you can wait a few minutes if they want to talk to new friends.
Dealing with Time Management
Running late? Many people struggle with time management, and they’re always running late. Missing appointments, late for work, racing to get to the meeting on time. Time management is a part of executive function, something that many people struggle with. It can be especially troublesome for individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) like autism or Asperger’s, or ADHD.
How can you improve your time management and be on time? Here are some simple tips, tailored especially for individuals with ASDs or ADHD, but anyone can use them.
1. What time is it?
It may seem obvious, but many people don’t know what time it is. If you’re always late, you’ve got to wear a watch, carry a cell phone with a clock, carry a pocket watch, have clocks in your home and office and get an alarm clock. And they have to be accurate, so go online and check to make sure every clock shows an accurate time.
2. What specific problem are you working on?
It’s always best to solve one problem at a time. When is being late most troublesome? Let’s focus on that one situation. I’ll use getting to work on time as an example.
3. A routine can be quicker.
Time management is easiest if you do the same things every day, in the same order. I know that I’m most efficient if I make espresso first, then cut up a bowl of fruit, then heat the milk for my morning latte. If I do the steps out of order I have to think about them more, I’m less efficient and it takes me more time.
4. Step by step
Think about all the steps involved in your morning routine. Waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, your commute. You may need to be more specific. Waking up may include the alarm going off, hitting the snooze button, dozing for just nine more minutes, and then getting up for real. The more detailed your steps, the better your results, so think about this in detail.
5. Create a timed list.
Take all these steps in your morning routine and list them in order. Then estimate how long each step will take. Many individuals with time management issues have a real problem here. Some people just don’t have a strong internal clock. What seems like five minutes turns out to be 20, something that should take half an hour seems to drag on all afternoon. This timed list will help you calibrate your internal ideas of time, and discover the truth about your actual morning routine. So don’t worry too much about accuracy at this point, just make your best guess of how long each step takes.
6. Test it out.
Tomorrow, see how accurate your list really is. Carry it with you throughout the morning. Carry a watch as well. Keep checking with your list, noting which step you’re on, and the time. Are there any steps you missed? Don’t spend time analyzing your list right now, just try to record what you doing and what time it is.
7. Fine tune your routine.
The morning rush is over, you completed the day’s work and you have some free time. Now is the time to analyze how accurate your time estimates were. Did it take as long to get dressed as you expected? You might want to repeat this exercise several to improve your accuracy.
8. Work backwards.
What time do you have to be at work? Start there, at the end of your list. Working backward, and using the amounts of time it take to accomplish each task, you can figure out what time you need to start your morning routine.
9. Leave some room for error.
The truth is, there’s a lot of unpredictability in some schedules, especially when you’re not in control, like during your morning commute. Most prompt people are actually a bit early much of the time. You need to consider if you absolutely need to be on time, or if it’s OK to be a bit late on those days the traffic is especially heavy, or if your dog is sick, or you knock over the carton of juice. The more trouble it is to be late, the more you’re going to have to accept getting there early most of the time.
That’s it. Give your new routine a bit of time to fine tune it and see how it’s working and then move on to your next time related issue. The more you work in this way, the better you’ll get at estimating how long things take, and the better you’ll be at being on time.
Many individuals on the autism spectrum struggle with sensory problems: the lights are too bright, the fabric too scratchy, the noise simply overwhelming. Unfortunately, the neurotypical world is often unsympathetic. This can be especially true in school settings, where all kids are expected to fit in to all the same requirements. Every kids must survive a fluorescent lit classroom, the overly warm, fetid cafeteria, and a screaming, running recess "break". These sensory challenges can make a school day into a marathon of overwhelming and exhausting input. (And leave your kids too exhausted to tackle that pile of homework.)
I think it can be hard for neurotypicals to understand what these sensory issues can feel like. Of course, everyone is different and each person has their own particular issues. But I did want to pass along an interesting article on one individual's experiences of sensory challenges. Brian King is a social worker, as well as someone diagnosed with Asperger's as an adult. Check out the third issue of Brian's Spectrumite magazine to learn about what his experience is like. Talk to your kids about their experiences, and try to understand their own particular sensitivities. Maybe the school can be a little more flexible, or some sensory related modifications can be written into the IEP.
Still not sure these sensory issues are real? Just think about biting on foil or scratching fingers down a chalkboard. Can you imagine trying to learn while that's going on?
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.