Organization is a big challenge for tweens and teens and is even more of a challenge for children with autism. My son, Alex, is an 11 year-old sixth-grader and organization is without a doubt his biggest educational challenge. It even ranks higher than social issues for him. Over the years, we’ve tried several different methods to help him stay organized and today I figured I’d share four of the more successful ideas with you.
Color Coded Folders and Notebooks
English is orange, math is green, history is red, Spanish is blue, science is yellow and his elective is purple. This was the color scheme we set at the beginning of the school year and I have it memorized. Alex uses two plastic pocket folders for each class – one holds current assignments and the other archived assignments, just in case he needs access to an old assignment for any reason. His spiral notebooks even coordinate – his math notebook is green, etc. At the end of each quarter his archive folders are cleaned out but we keep all of his papers until the end of the school year. Only after the school year is over do we recycle the papers.
Agenda or Calendar
Alex first started using an agenda in the third grade. He loved the agenda and thought it made him look like a business professional; it was cute. He didn’t use it independently, though. Thankfully, a resource teacher was able to keep an eye on it for him. Now that he is in sixth grade, this is more of an independent process. He needs to be the one to fill it out and take it to the teacher to sign. The teachers are encouraged to prompt him if her forgets but he needs to take the initiative.
Once he gets into a routine of filling it out and getting the signatures, everything flows smoothly, but getting into that routine is difficult. The start of the school year and the first week back after breaks are challenging but once he manages to fill it out for a week, he seems to keep up with it better. There is still room for improvement but this method is by far the most successful.
Digital Task List
We are a tech-heavy family. Both my husband and I have a background in information technology and we have always been early adopters when it comes to new technology. This trait has transferred on to the kids and Alex uses my old iPhone 4. We have loaded a task list app called Orchestra on his phone. Alex can add items to his list or my husband and I can add tasks to his list from our phones. When a task is completed, he simply checks it off.
This program would be more successful if he managed to get into a daily routine with it. We don’t just use it for school-based tasks but anything: brush your teeth, pack your backpack, put on deodorant (he’s a tween!), make your bed, etc.
Written Task List
Before Orchestra, we used a good old-fashioned written task list. Kind of like a picture schedule but far more detailed (pre-task list we used traditional picture schedules). Daily tasks were written on a white board and checked off as they were completed. To supplement the daily task list, I also printed out weekly and monthly calendars and placed them on the refrigerator. This let the kids see upcoming appointments, school holidays, extra-curricular activities, my husband’s travel schedule and more.
When I told him I was writing this article, he told me, “It is the hardest thing I’ve ever faced because I just can’t figure out a way to stay organized.” Amen to that!
How does your child with autism stay organized at school?