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Organizational Skills and the Pack-Up Routine

by Trish on February 12, 2011 · 18 comments

in Autism, Resources

We hear a lot about various aspects of autism being “invisible.” I don’t think it’s so much that people can’t see certain issues or difficulties a person is having, but more that they assume these things are not related to the disability. Instead, they may simply see a person who “isn’t trying hard enough” or is being “lazy,” “non-compliant” or some other term that places a value judgment on the person rather than seeing someone who is doing the best they can within their current situation.

One example of an “invisible” special need is difficulty with organizational skills. Organizational skills is an extremely broad category, but I wanted to share today one specific area that we have implemented with my son to help with the pack-up routine at school.

The Pack-Up “Problem”
Packing up at the end of a day at school was not an issue at all in kindergarten or first grade for my son. I believe this is because the teachers had extremely clear routines in place and were very hands-on in making sure the children were all following the same routine and not missing any steps. There was also a very clear distinction between what you did when you came in each morning and what you did at the end of the day.

When Michael entered second grade, things began to go downhill with regard to getting out of school in a reasonable timeframe and with all of the proper papers, books and other items. He was often one of the last students to exit the building and rarely had everything he was supposed to have in his backpack. There were missing assignment papers, missing journal books and even missing papers that I was supposed to be filling out and sending back in.

Interestingly enough, one of the new responsibilities for second grade was for each student to copy down the homework assignments into a planner. The teacher checked and initialed each student’s planner every day to ensure it had been done correctly, which was a great relief to me (at least I knew which assignments we weren’t getting done!); however, she placed the responsibility for the other items that needed to be packed up on the students.

I mentioned this issue to my son’s case manager during the first or second week of school, and she felt that we should give him some time to see if he would get into the routine on his own. I wasn’t so sure her optimism was well-founded but decided to allow the wait-and-see approach for a short time.

When “Giving Him Time to Settle In” Didn’t Solve the Problem (What? You thought that would be all he needed too?)
Once my request for a written pack-up routine had been rejected dismissed addressed, I decided to start some data collection on this problem. Each day, I kept track of what was missing from his backpack, as far as I could tell, and waited to see if things would improve.

After the first month of school, I had only seen everything come home 3-4 times, so I brought up the issue again with the team. Faced with a written record of what had been occurring over the past few weeks, they agreed to create a visual checklist for him to use.

As they began to create the checklist, they realized that, although the morning routine was very consistent day to day, the specifics of what to put in his backpack at the end of the day would vary based on what type of homework he had and other variables such as whether they had had library that day. So they came up with a checklist for the afternoon routine that was actually a series of questions designed to help him figure out what he needed to pack up properly on a given day.

I was actually quite impressed with this way of designing the checklist, as it goes beyond simply supporting his need for being organized enough to bring the right things home and actually supports him in thought process behind the organization.

Here are screenshots of the morning and afternoon routine so you can see what they look like:

Morning Routine

Afternoon Routine

(For those who may be wondering, FISH means For Information Sent Home, and the FISH folder only comes home at the end of each week.)

The Outcome
Since the checklist has been implemented, there have only been 1-2 days in four months when Michael did not have everything he needed to do his homework, which makes me happy if not him, LOL!

For those interested in reading more on this topic, here are a few online resources I found on the topic of organizational skills:
National Association for Gifted Children – Organization Skills
Autism Support Network – Teaching Organizational Skills
Homework and Beyond: Teaching Organizational Skills to Individuals with ASD by Michelle Garcia Winner

{ 17 comments }

Tessa February 12, 2011 at 4:47 pm

This is wonderful! I’m going to have to use this idea for my son! Thanks for posting!

Trish February 16, 2011 at 9:15 am

Glad you like it – hope it works well for him!

Melissa Garrett February 13, 2011 at 11:59 am

As far as I’m concerned, every child should have a checklist like the one Michael has! What a great idea. : -)

Trish February 16, 2011 at 9:16 am

I know! It’s so much easier than trying to keep everything in your head. :)

Kim (aka Frog's Mom) February 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm

First Kudos to you, mom, for not only identifying the problem, but backing up your observation with written data – I’m so proud of you :0)

Second Kudos to the IEP team. I love this checklist. I’m so going to steal this idea and ask our district to start using something similar for my clients with autism, ADD, and memory issues. I love the extra steps that involve identifying what you need and why then following up with checking to make sure you have it. I know some adults that could benefit from this format :0) Thank you for sharing!

Trish February 16, 2011 at 9:17 am

Yes, I am definitely learning that data is your friend. :)

I hope the district likes it – I’m sure the parents would be so impressed to have something offered they may not have even realized they needed!

Nicole February 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I believe this will be quite useful to a lot of families! Another great post!

Trish February 16, 2011 at 9:18 am

Thanks. We really do have a great team at our school; they just take some prodding at times. ;)

Barbara February 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Very impressive, Trish! Michael will be better prepared for the next school year, too! Will you try to fade the support in some way?

Trish February 16, 2011 at 9:20 am

Thanks, and good question about our plan for fading support!

I didn’t mention in my post that he currently needs quite a bit of prompting from his behavioral support person to go through the checklist, so our goal right now if to fade the prompts and have him use the checklist independently.

I don’t know if the checklist will ever go away, but at some point we would teach him to create it so he can be independent in that area as well.

Barbara February 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm

My bet is he will become more independent.

HOPELights February 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm

The routine is a great idea. It is all about creating a little bit of structure throughout the day in order to keep things on track.

Trish February 17, 2011 at 6:48 pm

So true. All those little things add up to a much better day for him. :)

Jean@MommyToTwoBoys February 19, 2011 at 9:53 pm

My first thoughts, as a former 2nd grade teacher, were why doesn’t she just help him. Take a minute of one on one time and make sure he has what he needs. But I guess that wouldn’t really help him in the long term? I think this new plan sounds great and will really put the responsibility on him. I hope he continues to do well with it.

I now realize this could be part of the problem with my son. I am so quick to do everything for him. Partly because of his special needs, but partly because that is just in my nature. I guess I need to step back a little and see what he can do without me.

Trish February 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Part of the answer to your question has to do with my son’s class having a long-term sub while the regular teacher was on a 4-month maternity leave. She was fairly young and inexperienced – and not the most organized by the end of the day, from what I could tell!

We are also trying to get away from too much prompting by the behavioral aide, who is also fairly new to the job and is learning how to back off a bit.

It is definitely easier to do things for him, but I am trying to be more aware of the areas where I need to teach and insist on some independence.

Gina @ Special Happens February 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I need to do that for all my kids…but with pictures.

Trish February 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Yes, pictures can be a great help! All his stuff in kindergarten and first grade had pictures, and some of it still does, but he has done well with the written schedules and checklist this year.

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