When it comes to school, we expect all kids to be organized. But we don’t realize just how complicated this really is, according to Elaine Taylor-Klaus, an educator and parenting coach. For kids with ADHD, getting organized is a big challenge.
In fact, ADHD affects the very skills that are required for success in school. Kids with ADHD have difficulty getting started, prioritizing, planning, managing their time and emotions, staying on task and focusing, she said. It’s the nature of the disorder, which impairs the executive functions of the brain.
Plus, each school year typically requires new systems, new habits, new books and new lockers, said Laurie Dupar, a trained psychiatric nurse practitioner and ADHD coach.
It’s important for parents, kids and teachers to realize just how difficult school-related tasks are for kids with ADHD. Fortunately, there are many strategies that help. Here are nine insights and techniques to try.
1. Pinpoint the challenge.
First it’s important to figure out which aspect of organization your child is having a hard time with, said Taylor-Klaus, co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, an online support resource that trains parents on how to effectively manage kids with ADHD and other ”complex” needs.
For instance, “are they struggling with getting started on homework, staying on task, finishing it, or turning it in?” The more specific you can get, the more effective the solution, she said.
2. Ask your kids.
It’s vital to ask your kids what they think will help. According to Dupar, these are some examples: “What do you think might work for you? What do you think will motivate you? What do you want to try? What do you think will help you get out of bed in the morning?”
“It’s amazing to me what kids know when we just stop and ask them,” Dupar said.
Also, talk to your kids about what’s troubling and challenging them, because often they’re the only ones who know. For instance, Dupar’s 10-year-old client wasn’t doing well in school, so he was moved to the front of the classroom. He started getting better grades. Then, suddenly, his grades started slipping. When asked, he said that he was getting frustrated, because it turns out that the kids who were doing well got to sit in the back of the room. He was allowed to sit in the back as a reward and started doing better, again.
A first-grader Dupar was working with was getting in trouble in school. So they sat him with a star student. But he wasn’t doing any better. As it turned out, this little girl had a crush on him. Her smiling and poking mortified him. The only person who knew this, of course, was him.
Another client of Dupar’s hated brushing his teeth. When Dupar asked him why, he said he didn’t like the taste of the toothpaste, and his taste buds were very sensitive. His mom bought different toothpaste, and his brushing improved.
3. Let kids pick their school supplies.
Kids with ADHD usually have a litany of things they can’t do or aren’t allowed to do. Letting your kids pick their supplies “helps to reaffirm they can make a choice about something,” Dupar said.
Plus, it can help their schoolwork. Picking out a particular pen can help kids who’re struggling with writing, she said. “Kids with ADHD are tactilely and sensory sensitive.” Using some writing utensils can be uncomfortable for them, she said. You can even host a pen party, and have kids try out each other’s pens, she said.
Take your kids shopping for new pens or highlighters several times a year so they have something new and novel to enjoy in class, she said. Supplies also make great holiday gifts. “Sometimes just that excitement can carry the student along.”
4. Try a treasure hunt.
Dupar used to do this with her four kids: She’d take them to their school when it wasn’t in session, and have them find different places, such as the cafeteria, or things, such as the number of swings on the playground. She’d also have them track the time it took to get from one classroom to another. This is helpful for little kids and even teens in reducing anxiety and overwhelm, whether they’re starting a new school or a new semester.
5. Designate one folder for homework.
To ensure your child brings their homework to school, have them pick one colored folder to keep all their homework in, Dupar said. This way they don’t have to “scrounge around in their bag. They know it’s limited to this vicinity.”
6. Use a liquid timer.
Liquid timers are fun for kids, because they provide a great visual and turn tasks into a game (e.g., “let’s see how quickly you can put your clothes on, and get out the door for school”). Basically, you turn the timer over, and watch the goo drop, which takes about 10 to 12 minutes. According to Dupar, these timers come in different sizes and speeds.
7. Put a clock in the shower.
People with ADHD typically don’t have a good sense of the passage of time. Kids with ADHD can end up being late to school because they spend too long showering. Putting a waterproof clock in the shower can help, Dupar said.
8. Use a special sheet for homework.
Some of Dupar’s clients get overwhelmed with the number of questions for their math homework. So she suggests they get a colored piece of paper, and cut a square out, so it only shows one of the questions. Then they simply “move that paper over their homework paper,” she said.
Let kids pick the color of the paper, and the shape they’d like to cut out, she said. This makes doing homework just a bit more interesting and almost like a game.
Every child is different and will gravitate toward different systems and strategies. “[T]here’s no single organization system that works for all kids with ADHD,” Taylor-Klaus said. For some kids, color-coding is effective. For others it’s their own work area, she said. “For others, it’s really about making sure they get snacks and enough sleep — and breaks — definitely breaks!”
Experiment with different techniques, and, again, don’t forget to ask your child what works best for them.