Controlling Disorganization

One can spot the disorganized child with very little training:

  • Papers abound on top of and inside the child's desk and usually are falling out along with books and other belongings.
  • Notebooks are stuffed with a hodge-podge of returned work and personal items.
  • Getting homework to and from home is a major endeavor.
  • Lunches or lunch money and permission slips for field trips frequently require frantic phone calls home.

This inability to organize the simplest of tasks plagues many children with disabilities, their families, and their teachers. Preaching, scolding, or punishing has little effect on solving this problem. Whatever internal mechanism develops in most of us that allows us to live with some sense of order is deficient in these children. Eventually, the disorganized child must accept the need for artificial organizers.

The behavior of the parent is critical in controlling disorganization. Parents may have to adjust their own lifestyles to include more orderly approaches to daily schedules, mealtimes, or planning ahead for family outings. Family lifestyle will not cause disorganization in the child with learning disabilities, but it can enhance or impede the child's ability to control impulsive behavior. Similarly, a disordered classroom will not provide a good model for such a child. The following are some specific organizers that may help disorganized children:

  • Use color coding. This may be used in notebooks, on closet shelves, or by tags sewn in clothing. In the beginning, adult monitoring may be needed; but once it becomes routine, color can help provide a simple structure to a potentially chaotic environment.
  • Set up repetitious routines for daily activities. Homework always should be done at the desk, then placed by the front door in the evening. Clothes for the next day should always be selected before going to bed.
  • Carry small notebooks for recording assignments. If teachers and parents need to check for accuracy and completeness, a simple initialing by both parents and teacher can serve as an adult communication scheme.
  • Write out a complete daily schedule each evening before going to bed. Building on paper a life that includes classes, study time, and recreation helps the child ensure that all of this will occur with predictability and balance.

You may be able to devise other schemes for providing the structure needed by the disorganized child. As adults, our responsibility is to set up the structure, monitor it, and reinforce it until it becomes a routine. Expect errors, excuses, and backsliding; but help the child to make steady progress though consistent, supportive reminders.

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