Tag Archives: adhd

Organising the Gifted but Scatty

I wrote this post for Dazzled and Frazzled at the start of the new school year back in 2011. The same issues come up time and time again at support group meetings, so I felt it was worth re-posting! 

Do you have one of those kids who lives in a world of their own much of the time, completely oblivious to the passage of time; who needs constant reminding to “put the other sock on and finish getting dressed”; to “never mind that the dog’s water bowl is empty, you have five minutes to eat your breakfast and get out to school”?

Does the start of the day go something like the version on the right below?

Getting Ready for School Flow Chart

llustration by Buck Jones, used with the kind permission of Allie Golon of Visual-Spatial Learners

You finally get them out the door and are just recovering when you spot the Irish homework that was slaved over for hours the night before, sitting on the table. Or the text arrives to say “I’ve forgotten my maths book”, “forgotten my lunch”, “forgot there was P.E. today”…and so begins that inner battle: if you constantly bail them out they’ll never learn, so you should let them suffer the consequences of not planning ahead and paying attention, versus the gut feeling that they really can’t help it and will be devastated to turn up in class without all the right things. 

In my experience there are some kids who, by suffering the consequences of their actions or lack of them, will quickly learn to be better organised. However, there are some who really do have genuine organisational difficulties related to what are known as executive skills deficits. No matter how hard they try, they always struggle to be organised. They know this and it frustrates them, causes them distress and makes them feel useless.

Sometimes the issue is just delayed development of executive skills, sometimes it’s ADHD, sometimes it’s that your kid is a visual-spatial learner. Whatever the reason, recognising for themselves the tasks with which they struggle and learning how to best to work around the problem is something that will stand to them forever. Plenty of scatty, disorganised people go on to lead productive, creative and fulfilled lives. For them to be left to constantly mess up or to have you forever picking up the pieces for them is hugely damaging to their self esteem and will delay their independence. The trick is to get the balance right between being supportive and allowing to learn by failure.

As a parent, I have found it helpful to avoid comparison of my children’s progress in this area with that of other children of the same age. My goal is to ensure that, by the time they reach adulthood, they have learned to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible and are ready to leave the nest. In the meantime, they may need a little more support than their peers, but it’s not a competition. It can also be helpful to discuss the problem with your child’s teachers so that they understand and can work with you. It is absolutely vital that your child is included in the process so that they take responsibility for their own progress and learn to advocate for themselves as they get older.  

Here are some tricks which help them to cope better.

Getting out in the morning:

1. Mornings are usually hectic and full of distractions, so pack your schoolbag and look out all your clothes before going to bed the night before. Use the school timetable to check off what is needed.

2. Set a timer in your bedroom to go off when it really is time to be dressed and ready to go for breakfast. (To begin with, mum may need to pop her head around the door at intervals to make sure progress is being made. Don’t bite it off!)

3. Follow a routine and do everything in the same order so you don’t leave anything out.

4. No TV or other distractions!

5. Have a mental checklist of the essentials and go through it before you leave. Schoolbag, lunch, money, bus ticket…whatever you need, but keep it short or you’ll forget items. My own list, which I automatically recite on my way out the door, is “keys, money, phone”. (and now also glasses :-()

In school:

6. If you have a homework journal, USE IT. If you don’t have one, get one. Write in, not just the homework given, but when it is due and any other special announcements. eg If the teacher tells you there is a test or you must bring in a particular item next Wednesday, write a note in next Tuesday’s slot to remind you

7. Colour code your books. You can buy sheets of coloured stickers in various shapes and allocate one to each subject eg red circles to maths, blue squares to English etc. Stick these to the spine of all your books, copybooks included. Then, when you look into you locker, you will see quickly which books you need for each class…provided you take the time to keep your locker tidy.

8. Colour code your timetable to match the book system.

9. Make lots of timetables. Stick one where you do your homework, one in the kitchen, one inside your locker. Make a small one, laminate it and keep it in your pocket.

Most importantly:

10. Accept that this is not your fault and, once you are doing your best, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you keep working at it, after a while, these habits become automatic and you will find life much easier. Some of us spend our whole lives using to-do lists and little tricks to keep us on track.

Further reading for the frazzled: