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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 ~
So most of us are officially Back-to-School. For some sensory kids, there can be a “honeymoon period” when the excitement of the new school year keeps them engaged, on-task, and connected. For other sensory kids, feeling overwhelmed and / or forgetting things begins immediately. Thankfully, we can make simple but powerful visuals to help them prioritize and remember important items in a fun and memorable way.
MAKE A VISUAL WORTH REMEMBERING:
Identify the top 3 things that your child seems to be forgetting and then pick the one that has the biggest impact on their learning right now. This is where you start. For example, if your child is forgetting their baseball cap or their glasses, you start with helping them remember their glasses.
2) Choose an Image with Impact:
This is where you can tap into a fascination for your child – something they love and naturally connect with that will draw them in. Studies show that the more silly and outrageous we make it, the more memorable it will be!
3) Tap into Slogans:
Once you have an image, doctor it up adding in the item you are looking to help your child remember. Use popular slogans to help make the text powerful and easy to remember.
4) Make it Big and Let It Hit ‘Em in the Eyes
Print out the image / text visual, laminate it or put it in a sheet protector and hang on the door (at eye level) your child uses when they leave for school.
After success with the visual, you can drop the text and just leave the image or vice versa. Sometimes, you can switch to using the verbal prompt only “Got Glasses”. If your child has a hard time bringing their glasses back home from school, you could make a mini-visual of the picture only to hang in their cubby or locker as a prompt when packing up their backpack.
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 wearing glasses and used the “Got Milk” slogan in the visual. When we support one item with a fascination, a catchy slogan, and add in alittle outrageous fun, we can help our kids remember. Keeping it simple but fun makes all the difference. Simple changes for more peaceful days ~
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 ~
A big part of supporting the Back-to-School transition has nothing to do with school — it happens in the many transitions at home around preparing for school. The morning transition can be one of the more challenging transitions as many of our rigid, anxious, or distracted kids have a hard time waking up in the morning, have anxiety about school in general, and/or know they will be working hard to pay attention and hold it together for the next 6 hours. Our goal is to make their mornings easier so they have more energy and willpower for the experiences where they will need it at school.
THE DRESSING STATION
One way we can support a structured, simplified morning is to create a Dressing Station. This allows us to break the dressing task into 2 steps:
1) Evening Step: Pick out and put clothes in the dressing station the night before (this simplifies the morning and also helps our sensory kids begin the cognitive shift to school coming the next day).
2) Morning Step: In the morning, go to dressing area and get dressed.
A dressing area supports many rigid, anxious, or distracted behaviors.
– It helps our rigid child simplify a transition to an undesired task (school!).
– It helps our anxious child create a routine which will help calm and support their transition to something that might feel overwhelming (school!).
– It helps our distracted child stay on task with a simplified, visual plan to complete a task.
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.
– We’ve created a visual checklist of sorts with the 1,2,3 Labels / Picture Images.
– It can grow with your kids. As they get older, you can remove the visual supports. You can transition from images to numbers 1,2,3 and then to no visual supports besides the hooks or the chair.
THREE TYPES OF DRESSING STATIONS
* A 1,2,3 Bin System:
This works well for younger kids learning to dress and can be portable!
* A Hook System:
Can use with images, numbers or just have your child hang each item of clothing separately in order. A bag on a hook can hold socks / shoes.
* A Chair Station:
You can use duck tape to mark sections on the chair, have a basket under the chair to hold shoes and socks, or just pile everything on the chair (sometimes too much structure is just too much!).
*** For kids who might need to tap into the Power of Choice to stay regulated with this task, think about having 2 Dressing Stations – A Hook System and A Chair Station. If they are having a hard time doing step one (picking out clothes the night before), you can give them a choice of which dressing station to use – this might help get them over the hump.
– Bins for the 1,2,3 Bin System. These bins in this example are from Ikea – http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/20163265/
– Row of Hooks – Can attach to a wall (make sure your hang at the right height for easy access to hooks and images / numbers) or if you child is tall enough, you can use Over-the-Door row of hooks. A Row of Hooks with 3 or 4 hooks works best. Here’s an example from Lowe’s – http://low.es/1mlueGC
– 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/
– A Chair: One that has a design of “hook” corners or a flat top is best – 1) undergarments on seat of chair, 2) top on Left side of chair, 3) bottom on Right side of chair, and 4) shoes and socks under chair.
– Labels: Adhesive labels for a 1,2,3 visual support if needed.
– Small Binder Clips to attach labels to Bins.
– Optional: Laminating Machine to protect picture images.
Break it down, eliminate distracting stimuli, and create a visual support or a system. Try one of these easy Dressing Stations for a smoother morning transition. Sensory Organizing = Making Space for Life ~