Helping children get and stay organized is directly correlated to their success in school, home and life. This is especially true for autistic children. Learning organizational skills helps kids develop their focus, concentration and motor skills. Getting and keeping children on the autism spectrum organized can be more challenging because they are easily distracted, require strong visual and audio cues and often times have limited motor skills.
Autistic kids are typically visual learners, which means they generally learn and perform better when provided with visual instructions and prompts. Below are four tips on how you can help your child be organized, develop skills and make smooth transitions between activities using visual instructions and prompts.
These organization tips may need to be adjusted depending on your child’s age and abilities. You can use these tips as a reference guide.
#1 – Create a simple bin system for your child’s toys, crafts and school supplies. Separate the types of toys, crafts and supplies into individual bins. Take photographs of each type of toy or supply contained within and tape the photograph to the front of each corresponding bin.
For example: Place a photograph of plush toys to your child’s bin that contains plush toys. Do the same with markers, Lego’s, crayons, and so on. Even if the bins are clear (transparent), it will be easier for your child to be organized if s/he has a visual cue as to where their toys or supplies belong. Bins with easy to remove lids or no lids usually work best.
#2 – Display children’s’ toys, supplies and clothing. It is easier for autistic children to stay organized and function if they can see all of their belongings. Drawers do not usually work well for children in the autism spectrum. Hang as many of their clothes as possible or fold them and place them on shelves, preferably cubbies. Place jeans in one cubby, sweatshirts in another and so on. Socks, underwear and pajamas are best placed in transparent bins with photographs taped to the front. If you don’t have cubbies, you may tape photographs on the front of each drawer. If possible do not combine items into one drawer.
#3 – Set up daily routines and stick to them as much as you can. Creating and following regular daily routines can make transitioning from one activity to another less upsetting for you child. Children on the autism spectrum often thrive when they have daily routines and typically react poorly to changes in routines. Once a solid routine is in place, small changes can be introduced slowly. Introducing small changes can actually help your child develop coping strategies to deal with transitions. It is best to introduce changes in routines in very small steps. Gradually, your child will be able to use strategies like social stories and self talk to work through the anxiety they experience when making transitions.
An example of an organizing routine is to give your child a 10-minute heads-up before dinner each evening and then set an egg timer for 10 minutes. Teach them that when the timer goes off, they are to pick up all of their toys and place them in the appropriate bins.
This little daily activity establishes a routine, lets your child know what to expect, gives them a 10-minute lead-time and then provides them a distinct audio clue when it’s time to pick up and get organized. It is important to ask your children to set the egg timer, not you. It gets them more involved in the process and they will be more likely to follow through.
An addition to this routine could be that when the egg timer goes off and it’s time to pick up and get organized, you play a specific song that your child then recognizes as the “pick-up and get organized” song. This can make it playful, fun, fun, soothing and also can help keep them on task and get the work done faster.
#4 – Take your child’s schedule and make it a picture schedule. Picture schedules work best for all kids on the autistic spectrum. Set up the picture schedule so that when your child is finished with the task or activity they can move that corresponding picture to the all done side of their schedule. Basically you are creating an interactive picture schedule that your child can “control”. Their picture schedule could also be organized by first, next, last. This gives them a specific order of the tasks and they can move the picture to the “completed” side.
Use visual aids to help your child get and stay organized and keep it simple. Of course all of these tips are only to be used as guidelines and ideas. Each child in the autistic spectrum reacts a little differently, has different needs and is functioning at varying levels. Consider modifying and adjusting these ideas as you see fit based on your child’s needs, abilities and age.
Getting your home and life organized will make life easier for both you and your child.
Heidi is a professional organizer, creator of The Fast-Filing Method home filing system, & publisher of Life Made Simple e-Magazine. Heidi energizes her readers’ lives by teaching effective organizational systems to help you accomplish more & GAIN peace of mind! Visit ClearSimpleLiving.com to get a complimentary subscription AND a FREE Home Organization Kit.