Tweens & Teens: Organizational Strategies for Executive Function, ADHD, ASD


From Cheryl Swope | June 26, 2018 | For Special Needs, Teaching Resources

Some of us knew early that our children would need help organizing themselves. Closets cluttered, floors scattered with odd bits, and papers as crumpled as our children’s faces told us they needed help. We hoped everything would just get better. It didn’t.

At the Sodalitas Gathering in Louisville this year, our Simply Classical sessions will address this and other topics. Our online forum seems to request as many behavioral as academic topics. “Super-parenting” is not enough. Our children need specific, daily help to organize themselves. Here are a few tips from our sessions:

Learn about Executive Function. What is it? How do EF difficulties affect my tween or teen? How can I help? Even if you do not have a formal diagnosis, you can benefit from the information in the link.

Tips for Helping Younger Tweens with Executive Function, ADHD, ASD Difficulties

Sequencing, Time, Order, and Attention to Task
– Adjust expectations. This is not the child who will become orderly with a laissez-faire approach!
– Understand that now is the time to form better habits. Left to their own abilities, the untidy tween may become the sloppy, ineffective adult. Learn more about ADHD and how the many effects, if left to themselves, might impact his life.
– End your ASD tween’s video game addiction NOW. Do what is necessary to limit electronics with the child who has autism spectrum disorder.
– Divide clean clothes into outfits. Divide drawers or bins for socks, underwear, pajamas. Purchase a big bundle of white socks, so all match easily. Keep extra mittens or gloves on hand.
– Use the same phrases for repeated tasks to implant efficient “self-talk.” Hygiene: “Face, hair, teeth.”
– Post the day’s routine. Overview the day before it begins. Do not assume your schedule is internalized in his mind. Talk about errands or activities in order.
– Use a timer to prompt faster task performance. Check his work as soon as the timer goes off. Principle: Inspect whatever you expect.
– Create a clean workspace. Plan regular clutter-clearing. It will not happen automatically. He needs your help.
– Turn off tv, radio, devices during homework. Allow headphones and an “office” for his independent work. Do not allow simultaneous screens and homework. If homework must be accomplished on a screen, stay “at elbow” with him to ensure no screen-hopping. Help him track his time-on-task with a time log broken down into 15-minute increments. Give him a break at the end of each 45-minute work session.
– Model attention to task! Set times on your own phone/computer use. Read silently nearby or work on your own “homework” (bills, journal), as he works.
– Teach the use of checklists. Creating lists, checking them, and finishing them sounds simple but becomes an important tool for life.
– Plan time for organizing school, clothing, and hobby materials before and after tasks or at the end of the day.

Older Teens with Executive Function, ADHD, ASD Difficulties
– Consider the road to independence as a series of short blocks with stop signs. Keep expectations reasonable at each stop sign for success. (He does not want to fail either.)
– Create a paper or electronic master to-do list. One subsection is schoolwork. The other is non-school tasks, such as chores, job-related, social.
– Review long-term assignments or chores and divide into short-term goals to avoid procrastination and being overwhelmed. Create short-term signposts for these.
– Evaluated progress frequently at first. Be encouraging. Key: You are the Coach of his team, not the Opponent.
– Overview daily, weekly, and monthly schedules at the top of each week. Help him develop a good daily schedule with healthy habits to include ample rest, outdoor non-screen time, and sleep.
– Keep study tools accessible. Paper/print reference books are better than electronic to avoid distractions with online dictionaries or encyclopedia.
– Create a folder system or other system designed specifically for him.
– If he must look up information online, do this with him. Set a stopwatch: 60 seconds to find the spelling of the word. Teach him to avoid pop-up photos, ads, emails.
– Turn electronic notifications to “silent.” Allow screen/social media time after work completion. As grades and work habits improve, additional time might be earned in 10-min increments, but enforce a healthy cap to this.
– Have him turn in all devices at dinner or, at the latest, bedtime.
– Allow no devices, gaming systems, tvs in bedroom or after dinner. Insist that the teen ‘check out” as if from the library his devices. Such curbs will benefit him in the end. You are protecting him from himself and from the inherently addictive nature of such devices, especially for teens with ADHD, ASD diagnoses.
– Play family or classroom games, create social experiences and meaningful conversations, explore nature, nurture healthy interests and passions to develop the mind.
– Begin a challenging but enjoyable read-aloud as a family or classroom, such as a Shakespeare play (comedy) or a classic novel everyone wants to read. Check Lexiles, if needed, to avoid being outside the range of the student’s listening ability. Talk about the books you read. Just 15-20 minutes daily serves as a daily reminder of the power of print.
– Allow the teen flexibility in scheduling to have a daytime Study Hall.
– Teach the student to use an Inbox and Outbox approach to daily tasks.
– Note his progress in organizing himself. Partner with his own goal to be more independent by encouraging responsibility.
– Help him now, while he is still in your home. He needs any time and attention you can give!

Tip for ASD: At any age, avoid rigidity. Yes, our EF/ADHD/ASD children appreciate structure, but they also need nurture, encouragement, and occasional playfulnessto avoid becoming anxious and obsessive.

Tip for younger students with ADHD: Follow these 20 Ways to Calm a Wiggly Child.

Tip for a full, rich, yet carefully paced education: Consider this curriculum intentionally paced for children with organizational, EF, ADHD, or ASD challenges. If you have any questions, we are available to help!

The full “Behavior” chapter of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child

Smart but Scattered

Executive Function in the Classroom

Late, Lost, and Unprepared


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