Are you one of those men or women who say to yourself, “I really should get more organized?” Then January is the month for you. I recently read that American women spend 55 minutes a day looking for lost or misplaced items. Yes, this is a challenge for all of us but when we think about the difficulty youngsters with ASD often have with core organizational skills, it’s more of a challenge than simply misplacing items. The term “executive functioning” (EF) is often used to describe “brain-based skills” that begin to develop in the first years of life and result in “the ability to maintain an appropriate problem solving set for attaining a future goal.”
Approximately 80% of children with ASD are estimated to have problems with EF. Possible difficulties include:
- Organization: difficulty in organizing the steps of an action in order to follow a request
- Impulse Control: limited control of impulses to sufficiently participate in structured situations
- Planning Memory: lack of identifying the sequence of events necessary to accomplish a task
- Attending: difficulty to focus on the task requested
- Sustaining: ability to maintain strong performance for a short period of time only
- Shifting: trouble with transitioning from one activity to another, even when it’s preferred
- Emotional Control: limited control of emotional expressions
These sound overwhelming but there are some very specific action plans we as parents and teachers can implement. All members of your child’s team need to be involved in this discussion so that there is consistent carry over between the home and the school. Here is one example of an action plan to assist your child with his/her schoolwork.
Recommendation 1 – Help your child organize his/her papers and homework. You can do this by having a folder in his/her backpack with notes for the teacher, and separate folders for each subject area.
Recommendation 2 – Establish a routine for your child to follow in going through his/her backpack. At first, this will need to be a supervised activity or the folders and their contents could all be dumped on the floor.
Recommendation 3 – Help your child figure out what he/she needs to do for each assignment. Do you need a pencil, crayons, or scissors? What other tools or materials would be helpful?
Recommendation 4 – Consider whether visual supports would help your child be more independent and use newly acquired skills across different settings. There are simple and inexpensive visual activity schedules, self-monitoring activities, and apps that can address your child’s needs for a visual schedule to be successful.
Ryan, I, and his team diligently worked on overcoming his numerous challenges with EF. No, we never found a “cure” but with lots of practice, his ability to organize, plan, and act certainly has improved significantly. Involve your team, take it one step at a time, don’t get overwhelmed, and I guarantee you’ll meet with success.