Children are significantly more likely to excel in school and in life when they have good organizational skills. This is particularly true for autistic children. Learning organizational skills helps develop other things such as concentration, focus, and motor skills. Helping children on the autism spectrum learn to be organized can be more challenging because they are easily distracted, require visual 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 an easy-to-use and maintain bin system for your child's supplies and toys. Separate the types of toys 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 Lego's to your child's bin that contains Lego's. Do the same with markers, plush toys, 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. Choose bins with easy to remove lids or no lids.
#2 - Display your kid's toys, supplies and clothing. It is easier for all children, especially autistic children, to stay organized and function if they can see their belongings. Drawers do not usually work well for children on the autism spectrum. If you must use drawers, tape a photograph on the front of each drawer that corresponds to what is kept in the drawer. If possible do not combine items into one drawer. Hang as many of their clothes as possible or fold them and place them on shelves, preferably in cubbies. Place jeans in one cubby, sweaters in another and so on. Socks, underwear and pajamas are best placed in transparent bins with photographs taped to the front.
#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.
One helpful organizing routine -- Give your child a 10-minute heads-up before supper each day and then ask them set an egg timer for 10 minutes. Teach them that when the timer goes off, they are to pick up all of their supplies and toys and place them in the appropriate bins.
This daily exercise 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.
#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.
To be help your child get and stay organized use visual aids and keep it simple. All four of these tips are only to be used as guidelines and ideas. Each child on the autistic spectrum has different needs, reacts a little differently, and is functioning at varying levels. Consider adjusting modifying these ideas as you see fit based on your child's age, abilities, and needs.
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