In Part 1 of our Executive Function series, we identified what challenges look like for those who struggle with executive function. Part 2 dug deeper into how to help a child with executive function issues achieve goals. With Part 3, we offer tips to help with organization at home.
The first step to helping people who are overwhelmed with the task of organizing is assessing which executive functions are interfering with their ability to succeed. For example, If some of the trouble is not remembering where things belong, visual cues can be helpful. If the overwhelming feelings of trying to contain a mess that has taken over a room are contributing to anxiety, then strategies should include making tasks small and manageable.
One of the most important things to remember when helping people strategize is that one size does not fit all!
It is always essential to:
- Assess what systems are already working.
- Start with something easy to complete first.
- Evaluate strategies regularly and adapt or change if they aren’t working.
- Work on one small area or task at a time.
- Make a to-do list with no more than five tasks. If this is too hard to complete, make it even shorter.
- Pick an area to clean/organize. Divide that area into halves or quarters, or whatever fraction is manageable. Only work on one fraction at a time.
- If very overwhelmed with clutter, take a sheet and cover everything except a small area. Work on that small area. When complete, pull back the sheet and work on another small area.
- Once an area is organized, take a photo and keep it near so there is a model to work from when it gets cluttered again.
- Develop “homes” for all items. Use containers, shelves, cabinets, something with a boundary that defines the home.
- Have a bin, shelf, area for items that don’t immediately fit into a category or have an obvious home – an “I don’t know yet” bin. Trying to figure out where something belongs if it is not immediately obvious can paralyze progress. This can produce anxiety about making the wrong decision.
- If at all possible, organize with another person’s help.
- Group like items together. What defines “like” items is highly individual – no rules, as long it makes sense to the person who needs to know where things are.
- Group frequently used items together and make them easily accessible.
- When possible, purchase brightly colored items, such as phone cases, computer/computer case, etc. They are easier to find when misplaced.
- Keep extras of often lost items, such as lunch boxes, pens, pencil, keys. This saves the time and stress of frequent searching.
- Have a “take me with you” basket for keys, wallets, etc. by the door.
These are just a few ideas. What works for one person may not work for another. Executive function deficits can be significantly debilitating. It is an invisible disability that is frequently not recognized as such. Understanding this and committing to sticking with someone while they find strategies that work for them is a powerful and hopeful message.
Content courtesy of Betsy Alper, LICSW, and founder of A.D.D. Strategies and Solutions
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