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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 ~
For many of our sensory kids, the vague or abstract can be difficult for them to understand. This is can also be true around making plans or organizing outings. For some of us, taking a walk outside because it’s a beautiful day makes sense. But for some of our sensory kids, the “why”, “what’s the reason or the purpose” gets in the way. Thankfully, we can create Plans with Purpose to help us put the why and the purpose into our family activities, yearly traditions, and / or weekend outings.
PLANS WITH PURPOSE
The best way to demonstrate this is to give an example. I knew a sensory family whose goal was to do a weekly family activity but just taking a walk or taking a bike ride wasn’t at all exciting or making much sense to their sensory child. Here’s where you can bring in the purpose and tie in something fun and/or a fascination. Maybe your sensory child like planning routes or loves maps. And who doesn’t like ice cream? This was true for this sensory family so they had found their purpose. They called it Frozen Fridays.
Goal is to map out and hit most of the ice cream shops in a 30 mile radius over a 2 month period. Each week, tie in a bike ride that ends at the ice cream shop of the week.
1) Identify the ice cream shops.
2) Map out the ice cream shops, plan the order of the ice cream shop attacks, and look for an easy bike ride around the area.
3) Make a Ice Cream Shop Visual that maps out the weeks in your plan and hang in a central area at home.
4) You could even make a rating sheet that could be filled out after each ice cream shop with a vote for best ice cream shop at the end of the summer.
Why It Works:
1) It creates a purpose, a goal for the weekly bike rides.
2) Mapping out the ice cream shops and bike rides ties into a fascination for this particular sensory child.
3) There’s a built in weekly reward after the bike ride – Ice Cream!
4) There’s clear cut start and end to Frozen Fridays – when all the ice cream shops have been hit on the map, the project is over.
When we take some time to identify a goal we might have (more time together as a family), we can then come up with an activity, find a purpose / goal, and bring in some fascinations and fun. Plans with Purpose really comes down to one very important idea that everyone can understand – your way is as important as my way and I really just want to spend time with you. Simple changes for more peaceful, purposeful days ~
The dreaded shower. For many sensory kids, this can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Chilly air, water (too cold / too hot), shampoo (smells / feels weird), so much to remember to do, managing wet, wrinkly fingers. Thankfully, we can even Sensory Organize shower time!
THE 1-2-3 SHOWER
1) TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Think about times of day when you child is most relaxed and has some sensory and regulation tickets in the bank. For example, for some sensory kids, a shower at night is too much. It comes at the end of a long day when a lot has been expected and flexibility muscles have been maxed out. Sometimes first thing in the morning of a new day is the way to go.
2) THE POWER OF CHOICE: When transitioning to an undesired task, the power of choice can often help get our sensory kids over the hump. What color towel today, do you want to use shampoo 1 or shampoo 2? A little choice gives a sense of control which helps to manage transition anxiety.
3) THE THREE STEP VISUAL: Like we do with other Sensory Organizing supports, we want to break the task down into steps, reduce external distractions (or too many choices!), and create a visual guide. Here is an example of a bathroom shower caddy that might work – The Bask Shower Caddy by Umbra from the Container Store ( http://bit.ly/1ycrYeo). I love this design – it has three baskets that are suspended by a chain that hooks over a showerhead, a curtain rod, or a towel bar for easy access. Each bin has holes at the bottom to allow water to drain freely. The bins also have plenty of flat space on the front to hold a visual image. Like our other Sensory Organizing supports, this allows us to slowly remove the visual supports over time. We can provide strong support to begin with (numbers / text / image) and then move to medium support (numbers / text ) and then light support (numbers only).
WHY THIS WORKS:
~ It does the first step (and often hardest step for many sensory kids) of gathering supplies into one area and sequencing the task.
~ We’ve broken down the task into manageable pieces and they visually understand what “take a shower” means.
~ We’ve created a visual checklist of sorts with the 1,2,3 Labels / Picture Images (and this allows for an easy verbal prompt – “Are you on Step 2 yet?”).
– Hanging Shower Caddy – I used the Bask Shower Caddy by Umbra from the Container Store – http://bit.ly/1ycrYeo
– Picture Images: Take your own pictures of your real life tasks, pictures from magazines, stock photos, or image software like Boardmaker – http://www.mayer-johnson.com/boardmaker-software/ , Picture Exchange Communication System – http://www.pecsusa.com/ , or Do 2 Learn (can sign-up for an annual membership on Do 2 Learn!) – http://www.do2learn.com/
– Adhesive labels & Markets for the 1,2,3 numbers Laminating Machine or heavy duty packing tape to put over visual images to protect from the water.
Break it down, eliminate distracting stimuli, and create a visual support for shower time. Clean AND somewhat happy would be a big win! Sensory Organizing = Simple Changes for more Peaceful Days ~
The start of the new year can be a great time to create new routines at home for challenging times and difficult tasks especially as our sensory kids are moving into a time of core academic learning at school. Most children do better with predictable schedules / routines and this is especially true for sensory kids – like those with anxiety disorder, sensory integration dysfunction, learning challenges, ADD/ADHD, obsessive/compulsive disorder, high-functioning autism, asperger’s syndrome, or other sensory challenges. Creating some basic schedules and routines at home will support the structure they love and allow your time with your children to be as productive and relaxing as possible.
Start with solid morning and evening routines. These two times of day tend to be consistently hard for sensory kids as they represent big transitions – one moving into school mode and one moving into rest/sleep mode. Pay attention to what time of day is better for your child – if the morning is tougher, then most of the getting ready for school routine should be done the night before (clothes picked out, lunches made, backpack ready to go). Review the morning routine at bedtime to help your child know what to expect. If your child has great morning energy, save a few things to be done in the morning. Creating a picture schedule or checklist to support all or some of these routines will make this process easier and be a great way to teach executive functioning skills.
Tap into school techniques. This can be a great time of year to review the homework / school work organizing plans you have had in place to see what needs to be tweaked. Since teachers do a great job of creating structure and routines for our children at school, look at what sort of systems and visual aids are being used in your child’s classroom. Ask your child’s teacher for their input on strategies and supports that work well for your child and implement some of these techniques at home. By bringing some of those same techniques home, you will be giving your child the consistency that can make the strategy successful in both places.
Build in Downtime. We know many sensory kids need time to decompress and regroup after the school day and this is especially true during an intense period of the school year. Make sure after-school activities give your sensory child a bang for their buck. It should be an activity that will be a good physical release for them, something that allows them to tap into one of their fascinations in a creative, stimulating way, and/or something that makes them feel all around great.
Most importantly, by creating daily routines, tapping into school strategies, and being mindful of activities, you are also showing your sensory child that their way of learning and processing is important and valued – something that will make them feel protected and supported. Start the New Year off by embracing simple sensory systems for more peaceful days.