Monday, March 30, 2009

School Organization Tips for Students with Asperger’s, Autism and ADHD

Organization can be a big problem for kids with Asperger’s, autism and ADHD. Executive functioning difficulties can be a factor in all of these diagnoses, making it difficult for children to plan, pay attention, organize details, and manage their time.
I sat down recently with Nancy Chin of Step By Step. Nancy Chin is the developer of the Step By Step program for academic coaching. Nancy works with school age children who are typically very bright, but still struggling in school. Many of her clients have diagnoses of Asperger’s, autism and ADHD. I asked Nancy for her tips on helping kids succeed in the classroom.
Nancy described how she often works with young students, those from kindergarten through third grade, directly in the classroom. After consulting with the parents and teachers, and observing her students in class, Nancy works to create detailed instructions for these children. Typically, she would start working only on one goal at a time, for example, dealing with transitions during the school day. With the student, she works to create a check list with all the steps necessary. She also explains that the routine will be the same everyday, something that these students may not realize.  An example might be: When the bell rings, put your books back on the shelf, put your pencils in your backpack and get in line with the other children, trying to be in the first half of the line. Although her students are very bright, executive functioning issues mean that it can be difficult for them to figure this out without instruction. She’s found that, too often, the teacher can misunderstand and view the child as being defiant or distracted, when actually they’re just unsure what to do next. Often, with younger students she’ll create a sticker chart, sometimes using tiny prizes to help reward successes.
Nancy said that her plan is to set the goals so that the students can be successful, and then to focus on the successes. She stressed that learning these skills can take time, and she likes to start working with children when they’re very young, when it can be easier for them to learn these new skills. Each small success can lead to success in other areas, for example successful transitioning from the playground gets the student to the classroom on time, which can then lead to more time for learning, and greater academic success.
After achieving this first goal, Nancy said they’ll move on to another, small goal, for example, completing classroom work. This doesn’t mean that the work is all correct, but just that the student is actually doing it. By setting small goals, and focusing on the successes, the student starts to feel successful, learns how to organize and plan, and often academic performance improves.
I think many children could benefit from an approach like this. It’s straightforward and simple, creates a visual plan, which is ideal for many individuals on the Autism Spectrum, and most importantly, allows the student to succeed.
Nancy and I also discussed her tips for organizing homework, which I’ll be talking about in a later post.