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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 ~
A common challenge for many rigid, anxious, and distracted kids is the tendency to be All or Nothing thinkers. This can be experienced in many ways – with their emotions, social experiences, rules, and with tasks. When you constantly live in a place of All or Nothing and Right or Wrong – it can be easy to become hyper-focused on perfectionism and rigid expectations of external experiences become the norm.
The first step towards changing any behavior is becoming aware of current behavior and then examining what other responses exist outside of our usual response map. For our sensory kids, this means exploring the space between All and Nothing – the Middle Space.
THINKING IN THE MIDDLE SPACE
Here’s an example of a simple map to help visualize and work through the new THINKING IN THE MIDDLE SPACE options. Before a known All or Nothing experience, sit down and fill out the 3 different ways that the situation could be handled through the All Lens, the Nothing Lens, and most importantly the MIDDLE Lens. This Middle Space will often have several options to explore, options that might not naturally occur to our sensory kids. Once you explore a few of these All or Nothing experiences through the Middle Thinking lens, you can try to practice them in real life situations. This helps our sensory kids have a visual map of Middle Space responses and also give us parents a map to help guide our sensory kids through a situation with verbal prompts around these new Middle Space alternatives.
* Paper and markers or word processor.
* Pictures or images that represent All, Nothing, and Middle.
* Picture Images Options: 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/ ,Do 2 Learn (can sign-up for an annual membership on Do 2 Learn!) – http://www.do2learn.com/ , or Smarty Symbols Image Club (monthly membership) – http://smartysymbols.com/
* Can laminate and use a dry-erase marker for easy re-use.
* Could also make a simple, on-the fly visual using a notepad.
By creating a simple visual to help sensory kids make space between the All and the Nothing, they can begin to experience Thinking in the Middle. By helping them observe current behaviors and identify new ways of moving through an experience, we are helping them building new response habits. This is Sensory Organizing and this is meeting our sensory kids whenre they are today. Simple changes for more peaceful and empowered days ~
Our MOST important job as the parents of sensory children is our job from the sidelines. We are the lead Cheerleaders for Team Nice and it’s a big role. Here are the Top 5 Team Nice Cheers:
* SHOWING UP IS A BIG WIN
We know the world is overwhelming to you. You often manage big feelings that don’t make sense and a body that doesn’t always do what you want it to do so when you show up each and everyday, that’s already a Big Win.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EFFORT NOT THE OUTCOME
We know that simple things can often be harder for you. We witness how hard you work each and every day to show up and learn despite many external challenges. We are amazed by your effort.
* SMALL VICTORIES = BIG VICTORIES
We have come to learn how important small victories really are! A mastered task, an expression of a big feeling, taking a social risk, or a focused work session are big wins. You are amazing.
* YOUR WAY IS AS GOOD AS MY WAY
We have come to realize that we’re not all that different from you. We have a way of doing things that we think is valuable and important and so do you. We stand on the sidelines with verbal cues and visual guides to support your journey as needed. But our main job is to value your way as much as our own.
* YOU CAN DO IT
When we believe and say “You Can Do It”, it means today and everyday. We know that, just like everyone else, you are doing the best that you can everyday. And somedays it’s a much harder journey than others. We won’t give up – we know you can do it today and everyday.
We also know that we’ll have hard days too and we’re going to need to be our own cheerleaders and say the TEAM NICE Cheers to ourselves. But that just helps us understand that we’re all connected and all in this together. If we can learn these cheers for ourselves, we’ll be even better at cheering for you.
So let’s give three Cheers for TEAM NICE – here’s to Effort, Small Victories, and You ♥ ~
Sensory Organizing is about organizing and empowering daily life. When it comes to incorporating structure, routines, and visual aids into your home in a seamless fashion, there are some core tools that can support and enhance this process for you. Some of these tools come in handy for planned supports during challenging tasks or times of day and some tools come into play for those unexpected moments of need.
Here are my Top 7 Sensory Organizing Power Tools:
This to me is the #1 secret power tool. Small, portable (even for travel) and easy to whip out at a moment’s notice for a quick schedule, plan of attack, or routine. Added bonus – small magnetic whiteboards allow magnets to come into play to support routines and visual plans. For extra support, grab a plate stand to allow you to prop it up wherever you need it! One I love is the Quartet Dry Erase Board (8.5×11)
The clipboard is the perfect list holder but can slip into a homework bin or hang on a wall (on a 3M Temporary Hook – see below!). These can hold the homework plans or school or extra-curricular schedules for planning sessions.
Perfect for kids who need a more visual, step-by-step schedule for a task or time of day. Love the one from Lakeshore Learning – http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/ Has a bottom pocket to hold extra visual schedule slips. Bonus: Use the one side of visual strip of one routine and use the back side for another routine (for example:The front side is the morning routine and back side is the evening routine)
For me, Sensory Organizing is about bringing supports into life seamlessly and picture frames can help us do that. Anything from a fancier decorative frame to a simple acrylic frame will do the job.
I LOVE using a weekly magnetic whiteboard calendar to help organize time and prepare for upcoming experiences. Two examples that I love: 1) Board Dudes Aluminum Framed Weekly Magnetic Dry Erase Calendar (7.5×23) and, 2) Quartet Weekly Magnetic Dry Erase Calendar Combo (7.5×23).
Having the flexibility to hang wherever and whenever is key with Sensory Organizing and temporary hooks let us do that. Love the temporary, damage free, adhesive hooks from 3M Command – all sorts of sizes and styles – http://www.command.com
Nothing makes a visual routine come to life like picture images. A few options to help you have powerful images at your fingertips when you need them:
1)Take your own pictures of your real life items & tasks, pictures from magazines, stock photos, or draw some images with your child.
2) Image software like: Boardmaker – http://www.mayer-johnson.com/boardmaker-software/ Picture Exchange Communication System – http://www.pecsusa.com/ Do 2 Learn (can sign-up for an annual membership on Do 2 Learn!) – http://www.do2learn.com/
These Sensory Organizing Power Tools are the building blocks to creating structure, routines, and visual aids for your sensory child. Small changes with a few core Sensory Organizing Power Tools = Big impact for more peaceful days at home ~
Many of us come into sensory parenting with limited hands-on experience living with and supporting rigid, anxious, or distracted profiles. For many parents, one of the hardest pieces to journey through is learning how to live with and support strong emotions. The goal is not to be “in the strong emotions” with your sensory child but to be able to “be with” or “next to” your sensory child’s strong emotions in support.
Here are a few strategies to help you learn how to be with, not in, strong emotions:
– STAY IN OBSERVATION MODE
You know when you are watching a friend’s child and you find yourself in this great space of being able to observe and react without judgement or feeling? That’s where you need to be when your sensory child is in a place of strong emotions. Take a step back (physically and emotionally) because this emotional space is what allows you to be truly supportive.
– HAVE THE CURRENT LIST OF “POINT OF NO RETURN” TRIGGERS
Know the current list of “no return” triggers for your sensory child. There’s usually 2-3 things that, when emotions are high, will push your sensory child over the line. It can be sensory input that is overwhelming, certain verbal prompts, or tasks that are hard for them on a good day. Just know what they are and try to adopt an “off-limits” approach to them in periods of strong emotions.
– SOMETIMES GIVING IN = TRUE SUPPORT IN THE MOMENT
This can be the hardest shift for us parents. We have been raised to believe that giving into kids is wrong – that the parent is always right. But for sensory kids living with strong emotions, new rules do apply. Most likely, if your sensory child has gotten to the place of strong and unpredictable emotions, it’s too late to discuss, compromise, or negotiate. Letting your sensory child have what they need in an explosive episode can be the only thing that stops the spiral and gives your child the footing they need to get in control again.
– STRONG EMOTIONS = CALLING OUT FOR LOVE
Though it looks different when it’s anger or explosive behavior (especially in tweens or teens), strong emotions are no different than the child who has fallen and hurt themselves physically. We would have no problem helping a child who is physically hurt and it’s really no different than helping a child with strong emotions. If you need to cut out and frame a picture of a young child crying to help you remember this idea – do it.
– FOCUS ON SMALL SUCCESSES & TAKE AWAYS FOR THE NEXT TIME
Learning the parenting road of strong emotions takes practice – LOTS of practice. The important thing is to take a moment after an intense experience with your sensory child to acknowledge what you did better this time. Maybe you controlled your own emotions, maybe you were able to give your child space, or give them what they needed in the moment. Progress is in this arena can feel small but it actually REALLY BIG. So take some time to acknowledge it.
– KNOW THAT WE ARE ALL THE SAME
When it comes right down to it, we are the same as our sensory kids. When we are going through our own struggles, we just want to be loved and understood. When our sensory kids are in a place of strong emotions, they just want love and understanding. We might be on different roads but we’re all working towards the same goal. Remember that.
Strong emotions are real for many sensory kids and their families. With a few key parenting shifts and lots of practice, we can learn how to be with our sensory children and their strong emotions with love and understanding. Small changes with strong emotions for more peaceful days ~