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:
(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.)
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