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READER QUESTION: My SPD son, 11-yrs-old, is terrible at homework organization and motivation to complete his homework. He forgets things at school, even after meeting with the teacher prior to leaving. He just had a 4-day weekend and chose not finish work that was due prior to the break! How much hand- holding and “spoon feeding” should I do? He’ll be in middle school next year and he must learn to be responsible for his own work! He’s a smart kid. Very distracted. Very slow to complete tasks. A procrastinator to the max. Please help with simple “self-checks” that he can do to help him break homework down into manageable portions. Thank you!
This is a two-part question:
1) How can I help my son remember things at school?
2) How can I create some simple self-checks to help him break down his homework into manageable portions?
Today’s blog post will be focus on Question #1 – Remembering Strategies
Think of executive function skills (the mental processes that help us remember, plan, and organize) as a developing muscle. In fact, this “muscle” develops until most of us are 25 years old. So that means middle school and high school are executive function training periods where we can build and develop this muscle. Since this muscle is still developing, it means kids with executive function challenges will need systems, visual reminders, and lots of practice and despite all this, they will still forget things from time-to-time. A few remembering strategies for getting things to school and back home again.
* WHAT ARE YOU FORGETTING? MAKE A SYSTEM FOR YOU….
One of the most important things you can do is start with your own remembering. We can come to these experiences of helping our kids very frustrated with them after many lost items and forgotten pieces of work. Sit down and write down 3 things that you always forget – it can be anything. For me, it’s coupons for shopping. I’ll sit and remember how frustrated I feel when I get to the store and realize I forgot my coupons. I feel awful for not “remembering” and begin to verbally put myself down. In that moment, I’m just like my child – I forget things and feel awful about it. It’s pretty hard to remember things when you’re feeling awful about yourself. Same is true for our sensory kids. When I start here, owning the places in my life where I’m forgetful, I’m able to support my child’s remembering with compassion and understanding.
* PRIORITIZE WHAT NEEDS TO BE REMEMBERED
One way we can maximize their remembering muscle is to prioritize what needs to be remembered. For most kids, the priority is going to be getting homework home and back to school again and remembering books and papers. That’s what you focus on. You take hats / mittens, lunch boxes, even coats off the table until they master the important stuff. Leave an extra set of hats/ mittens at school, buy paper lunch bags to send lunches into school, and keep last years smallish coat as a back up. By loosening the remembering requirements, we are helping they use their remembering muscle on the important things.
* THE DROP-BIN
A general batching system can be a big support in helping kids get the right things to school. Instead of a detailed mudroom hanging / organizing system, get your child a big bin that holds everything that needs to go back to school – papers, backpack, jacket, hat/mittens, lunch, library books. As things get remembered or completed, they are put in the bin. At the end of the night, your child has one packing session putting in anything that is needed for the next day at school.
* MAKE A “DID YOU REMEMBER” VISUAL
Powerful images trigger remembering. This visual example is one I made for a child I was working with who was struggling with remembering to bring her glasses to school. She loved dogs and loved her milk. So we took a picture of her dog and used the “Got Milk” slogan in the visual. When we support one item with a visual fascination, a catchy slogan, and add in a little outrageous fun, we can help our kids remember. This was placed at eye level on the door she used to leave the house so it “hit her in the eyes” before she left.
* A CONCRETE, PORTABLE VISUAL
Give your child something to see and touch to help them remember a task. Rubber bracelets are a great tangible to use to help kids remember to turn in homework at school or get homework home. Have your child pick a color or two that reminds them of homework and have a bowl of these colored rubber bracelets at the breakfast table to access as they get ready for school. As they put on the bracelet, have the say “Turn in Homework”. When they see they bracelet during the day, they will get a constant visual reminder to complete this task.
* MINI BOOK LIST FOR LOCKER
A lot is going on at the end of the day transition as kids are packing up to go home – socializing, lots of movement and noises, and lots to try to remember in a short block of time. Use a small luggage tag or a small laminated list to hang on backpack or in locker for a quick visual checklist of books that might need to come home. Make sure to use the language they use to describe their books (i.e. Vocab Notebook, Reading Journal etc.).
* FORGOT MY HOMEWORK CARD
If you have a child that forgets their homework, expect that it is going to happen somewhat regularly until their remembering skills get stronger. The key is creating a “Forgot My Homework Plan” before it actually happens when your child is in a calm, regulated place. Have 3-4 options of what can be done if homework is forgotten (call certain classmates, keep an extra set of books at home, access information online etc.).
Think of this time as Executive Function Training Ground. A time of rememerbing ups and downs, a time to explore systems, visuals, and routines that can help trigger your child’s memory and help build habits. As you work to support your child, be open to exploring your own remembering challenges and strategies. Knowing we are all the same is a big piece in easing the tension and stress from these parenting moments. And this helps us all. Simple strategies for more peaceful days ~
The journey of special needs parenting can be filled with uncertainly and stress. You can find yourself constantly trapped in a place of regret about decisions / experiences from the past or constant worry about your child’s future. This can leave many of us experiencing daily life with depression or anxiety – lacking any hope about what might come. Of course, there are many external tools to support our child’s journey – specialized therapy, social tools, visual supports – all things that can be an amazing support on our special needs parenting journey.
But what about a tool that changes us from the inside out? What about a tool that changes our internal perspective about our external experience? What about a tool that changes our mindset, gives us a new way to meet the uncertainly of special needs parenting? What about a tool that gives us space to examine the here and now with hope and possibility? Herein lies the power of “THE GIFT OF MAYBE: Finding Hope and Possibility in Uncertain Times” by Allison Carmen.
As one who has always believed that small changes reap big impacts, “THE GIFT OF MAYBE” is the little gift that keeps on giving. This book is a perspective game changer. Allison Carmen, a life coach and business consultant, has created a tool can help you shift your mindset about everything. As someone who is a multi-modality learner, “THE GIFT OF MAYBE” is filled with Taoist stories, real-life client examples, visualization exercises, mini-meditations, and Maybe-mantras. It allows you to experience and then absorb this new reality from many different angles. MAYBE starts from a small place but quickly ripples out to all of life’s experiences. It can work anywhere or anytime an experience or feeling has you trapped in stress or anxiety. “THE GIFT OF MAYBE” teaches us how to be open to life’s possibilities from a place of hope instead of a place of fear.
The Power of MAYBE in my life right now:
MAYBE my child’s current struggle holds a hidden gift – for him and for me.
MAYBE when my child can says “I can’t do it this way anymore”, I can be open to a whole new way that is even better than I imagined.
MAYBE when I ask for parenting help, I’ll get to feel the love and support I have in my life and the love and support for my child.
MAYBE through my child’s challenges, I can begin to accept and understand my own challenges with love and understanding. MAYBE this is his greatest gift to me.
MAYBE I can learn to meet all uncertainty with hope.
MAYBE today is all I need to live fully and joyfully.
Sometimes, our rigid predictions of how life will be for our special needs child (and for us as parents) is the biggest hindrance there is. “THE GIFT OF MAYBE” gives us a new internal mindset for meeting the uncertainty of daily life. It gives us ways to create mental space for new possibilities and leaves us open to new outcomes. “THE GIFT OF MAYBE” is that parenting tool that can change everything because it changes us ~
For more information about “THE GIFT OF MAYBE”, about Allison Carmen and her great work, check out her website – http://www.allisoncarmen.com
“THE GIFT OF MAYBE” on Amazon.com – http://www.amazon.com/The-Gift-Maybe-Possibility-Uncertain/dp/0399169539/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
Thanks to Perigee for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
For people who are good at taking care of our sensory kids, we are often not very good a taking care of ourselves. This is the part that never gets talked about but it is as important (if not more important!) as all the things we do to support our sensory children.
Here’s my top 10 Self-Care To Do List (with a few book suggestions mixed in):
1) YOU JUST DID THE HARDEST PART Just by having the courage to say you need help right now, you have already shifted the dynamics of your experience.
2) WHAT YOU ARE FEELING IS NORMAL Know that all that you are feeling is completely normal and comes with the special needs territory!! We have an amazing ability to feel like we are the only ones going through something, but we’re not. Know that.
3) WE ARE HIGHLY SENSITIVE TOO! 9 times out of 10, us parents are very sensitive also. This sensitivity can be something we’ve always had or can be the result of navigating life with a special needs child. The more we can understand and support what overwhelms us, what we need help with, the better for our sensory kids (they can feed off our energy so easily!). So let me remove any guilt for you about taking time for yourself – it will undoubtedly help your kids. When I am in a rough spot – I do the worksheet that is in my book (meant to help us understand our kids) to understand where I am, what are my triggers right now, and what times of day are pushing me over the edge and I try to add in 2-3 things for me, for my emotional regulation. 2 Books I love about understanding our own Highly Sensitive Profiles are: – “Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World” by Sharon Heller. (Heller is a trained psychologist and also lives with sensory defensiveness herself!). http://www.amazon.com/Loud-Bright-Fast-Tight-Overstimulating/dp/0060932929 – “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron Ph.D. One of the trail blazing books on highly sensitive people. Gives a great picture of how to understand your sensitivities and how to set up your life to support them. http://www.amazon.com/Highly-Sensitive-Person-Elaine-Ph-D/dp/0553062182
4) SIMPLE THINGS WORK! Think simple and small changes. Sometimes it’s a bitch session with a friend or 10 minutes of complete quiet a day. If before dinnertime is a nightmare for your family, try to make dinner ahead of time and have it ready to go. Taking one thing off our plate at a stressful time of day can totally change how we navigate the stress.
5) TAKE YOUR OWN ADVICE This is hard to swallow sometimes but every time I am telling my sensory child to do something, there is a piece of that advice I need to take for myself. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Sometimes it’s just a small piece but I still have my piece so I need to look at that. If I’m telling my child to to find something he loves to do, I need to find something I love to do. When I am feeling sorry for him because of friendship changes, I need to go call one of my friends and make a date to see them. It’s all connected.
6) MAKE YOURSELF A VISUAL Visuals are powerful tools for us too. Make one for yourself and throw it in a nice picture frame that is front and center in your house. When you are feeling overwhelmed and need to get yourself grounded quickly, look at your visual. This will create some space between you and the stressful moment and it changes everything. Maybe it’s a saying like “IT’S ALL GOING TO BE OK” or a picture of your favorite, most relaxing place in the world. Find your powerful visual, print it out, frame it, and use it everyday.
7) SOMETIMES BIG PROBLEMS HAVE SIMPLE SOLUTIONS Get out there and talk to people – be vulnerable. Just like we tell our sensory kids that their brains can make some things much bigger than they actually are, we can do that too about our life with our sensory kids. Get out there and connect, ask for help, find out what is working with other special needs families, and be open to new ideas and perspectives – it really shifts everything.
8) THERAPY FOR YOU “Therapy” can be an art class, a “Colorful Mood Walk” (as I like to call mine) with a friend where you walk and colorfully talk about where you are right now, some retail therapy, or sitting in a therapists office to get some perspective – just get your version of therapy.
9) WORK ON BUILDING YOUR OWN RESILIENCE Learn to trust in this life process. Get a journal. Think back on all the hard things in your life (as a child too!) and write down what they were and what you learned from them. There are gifts in the hard experiences, even the one you are in right now, you just can’t see them yet. One book to check out is “The Resilient Parent: Everyday Wisdom for Life with Your Exceptional Child” by Mantu Joshi – http://www.amazon.com/The-Resilient-Parent-Everyday-Exceptional/dp/1933084251
10) LEARN TO MAKE SPACE FOR LIFE For me, making space for life means not believing every thought I have about my life today. I can take things too seriously, make things too dramatic or big, and can believe my thoughts without even questioning them. Make space with your thoughts – just because you have a thought, does not mean that it’s true. For me, it’s in that little bit of space that truth and wisdom come in.
And most importantly, know that everything I just told you, I need to hear for myself but only every single day. Thank you for helping me see it again today ~
Now that the kids are back in school and getting into the new routine, this can be a great time to experiment with homework spots. When our sensory kids are younger, homework is often done close by parents as a way for us to help them with work but also to help them stay on task and facilitate breaks when frustration is building. As kids get older, many parents often assume that the next logical step is having kids do homework alone in their bedrooms. But for many rigid, anxious, or distracted kids, this is often too big of a step. Bedrooms are filled with distractions and if never used as a work space before, that can be a big cognitive shift for our sensory kids around the use of this space.
This is where the middle space comes in – a space that is not the kitchen and not the bedroom but a new, dedicated work space that provides some separation and independence. Often, this is a process we can make bigger then it is. But alas, you only need a few simple things for a Just-Right Homework Spot:
– An unused corner. Pick a corner in your home that is in a room next to the kitchen area (where most of us parents are while the kids do homework). The less visual distractions in the space, the better (no direct windows, limited wall hangings etc.). The corner we chose was just holding a storage ottoman before and was not adding any functional support to the room – just right for a homework spot.
– A simple desk. Here – less is more. A simple, open writing desk works well in a corner (no drawers, open lines helps minimize distraction and visually lightens the corner). The one here is the LEKSVIK Desk from IKEA – http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/80133402/
– A simple chair. Hold off on wheels and spinning chairs until you see how the space works. The chair is always something you can always change or add sensory supports to as time goes on. The chair here is the KAUSTBY Dining Chair from IKEA -http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/10242838/. few examples of simple sensory supports you can add to the chair down the road include:
1) A disk seat for movement – here’s one from Waccess on Amazon.com – http://amzn.to/1AuSX1C
2) A bouncy band for feet movement – Bouncy Bands on Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Bouncy-Bands-students-without-distracting/dp/B00KRTNH0O .
– A Clean, Open Desktop – the key to a productive work space for many sensory kids it keeping the visual desktop space clean. On the desktop, just keep it to writing utensils, a desk light, and a homework plan. Having a supply bin close-by and accessible. Which brings us to….
– A Portable Homework Bin – in order to keep supplies close-by and accessible (but off the desk), get a portable bin to hold all homework supplies. One I like is the Sterilite Large Showoff Storage Container – http://www.sterilite.com/SelectProduct.html?id=25&ProductCategory=248§ion=1
Before your child is knee deep in homework, experiment with finding a simple, distraction free homework spot for your chid. A new, somewhat separate homework spot supports independence and self-reliance. A middle step as you help your sensory child make space for life ~
For me, Back-to-School has a slightly different time line. It’s not a full court press for the month August running from store to store and having everything labeled, stocked and ready to go. Why? Because that’s not how most sensory kids (or overwhelmed adults) successfully manage a transition. Here, we need to apply the same strategies to Back-to-School as we do other sensory supports: Break it down, eliminate distractions, and create a visual guide or system (for us and for our sensory kids!). Three key ideas to remember: Focus on immediate needs only, only introduce a few things a week, and involve your child in the process.
From my experience of living with and working with sensory kids, Back-to-School is the three month, not a two-week, process. Our sensory kids are often tangible, concrete learners so preparing ahead of time for something that is not here yet often feels too abstract for them and leaves them feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Do you know any child that really wants to make a homework station before school starts and before they actually have homework? Part of Sensory Organizing is understanding that we have to see what’s not working before we can set-up the best system to support it. So let’s simplify this Back-to-School Process for our sensory kids (and us) with a slightly different time line.
Central Message Area
Morning Routines / Systems
Getting Ready for New People and Places
Portable Homework Bin
Systems for Getting Things Home and Back-to-School Again
Weeknight Meal Planning
Visual Planning Tools
So for the next 3 Months, I’ll be working off this time line and sharing strategies, visual systems, and colorful examples that support these goals. Here’s to a little more summer and a slow but steady approach to what will be a new, messy, forgetful, frustrating school year chock-full of small victories ~
#sensoryorganzing #sensorychild #backtoschoolthesensoryway