RE: "Can you help me teach my Aspergers child organizational skills?"
For children and teens with Aspergers (high-functioning autism), organizational skills are a mystery. We all need strong organizational skills. Teaching these skills starts very young and continues through childhood as they increase in difficulty. Kids with Aspergers lack these natural skills and must be taught these skills if they desire to be productive adults.
When you think about teaching these young people organizational skills, you automatically think of lists, schedules and daily planners. While these are an important part of organizational skills, they are only a tip of the iceberg. Organizational skills are also known as executive functions. The executive functions affect abstract thinking, memory, task oriented goal creation, and mental adaptation in a wide range of situations.
Beginning at a very young age, we should teach our "special needs" kids organization skills that are age-appropriate (e.g., paying attention, understanding time, cooperation, memory work, basic research, basic planning, etc.). As our kids get older, these executive functions become more complex as they learn to manage projects, set goals, remember the small details, and organize and plan assignments.
To begin teaching your child with Aspergers organizational skills, you should first assess his weaknesses. In the meantime, you can help your child by working on time management and organization. These are two of the most important skills needed for success in school and in life.
Here are some suggestions that may help:
• Breaking assignments down into manageable pieces is a very practical skill to teach. For example, if your child has to read a book and write a report, the manageable pieces would be to locate the desired book, read the book, write down the basic book report information, and summarize the book in writing. At the same time, you will teach her to assign a period of time for each piece so she can learn how to plan her assignments.
• Speaking of planning and timing assignments, planning is essential to time management. Every opportunity should be used to encourage planning. If you are going on an outing, have your child plan what he expects to happen during that outing. For example, if you are going to the zoo, have him make a list of what exhibit he wants to visit first, second, third, and so on.
• Visual timers help kids see how much time is left, which will do a greater job at teaching the concept of time in minutes or hours. These timers usually have a number display as well as a red line that gets smaller as time runs out.
• Desktop organization and de-cluttering should take place regularly. When your child’s workspace becomes disorganized, she will lose her ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Set a time for her to put things away, make notes in her planner, and clean up her workspace.
• Encourage your child to make written lists. Having a list will help him stay on task. It will also help his memory skills.
• Find a simple daily planner or agenda book and have him write down everything each day. Homework assignments, favorite television shows - anything that is important to him - can go in his daily planner.
• Visual schedules, either written or picture schedules, are a valuable tool for your Aspergers child. Since she has an autism spectrum disorder, she prefers a routine. Having a visual schedule to refer to will make her more aware of her routine and help her cope with changes when they occur.
Executive functions are complex. These are just a few tips to get you started. Once your child has gained strength in these basic organizational areas, he or she will be able to function better at school and at home.
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