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Helping Children with Organizational Problems

By Dr. Susan Cozolino / Clinical Psychologist

Children who know how to organize time and materials perform much better at school.   Their effective organizational behaviors help to simplify academic demands, which in turn, promote learning and performance.

Persistent organizational problems are common among children whose performance in school is disappointing.  Despite their motivation to change their seemingly careless ways, these children find it extremely difficult to ‘get it together’ and modify their patterns of disorganization.  Careful observation over time can offer some insight into what a child may be experiencing and helps direct parents and teachers to appropriate responses.

According to learning specialist, Mel Levine, MD, there are five frequently encountered forms of organizational difficulty:  material management, time-management, transitional, prospective retrieval, and integrative.

Common Signs of Material Management Disorganization (difficulties having in their possession the things they need when they need them):

-a tendency to keep losing things

-trouble remembering what to take to or bring home from school

-difficulty knowing where to put things consistently

-a habit of creating ‘messes’ on desks, in lockers, in closets, in backpacks, etc.

-problems organizing a notebook or maintaining an assignment pad

Common Signs of Time-Management Disorganization (difficulties in their ability to plan and use time efficiently):

-trouble allocating time

-difficulty estimating how long something will take

-problems knowing the order in which to do something

-a tendency to be late and to procrastinate

-a pattern of constantly losing track of time

Common Signs of Transitional Disorganization (difficulties with ‘shifting gears’ and preparing adequately for what is coming next):

-a tendency to rush from one activity to another

-failure to take the right books or other materials home because of a hasty

departure from school

-difficulty settling down and beginning work efficiently after changing classes or

returning from lunch

-diminished understanding of, preparation for, and compliance with daily routines

-slowness with certain routines at home, such as dressing in the morning, getting               ready to leave for a family outing, switching from play to work

Common Signs of Prospective Retrieval Disorganization (prospective retrieval refers to the ability to remember to do something):

-a tendency to forget assignments

-poor or incomplete performance on errands

-unreliability with daily responsibilities (e.g., taking out trash, feeding the dog)

-trouble following through on promises

Common Signs of Integrative Disorganization (difficulties with tasks that involve

integration of multiple components)

-difficulty organizing an art project, writing a research report, or planning an

upcoming weekend

-difficulties with multitasking—which is the ability to concentrate and attend to

various needs, activities, and priorities simultaneously (e.g., getting

chores and errands accomplished on a Saturday morning)

-the end result to such activities that involve the integration of multiple

components or multitasking is a chaotically disorganized effort.

Part of the process in helping children with organizational problems needs to occur in the home.  Disorganized children can be helped by even minor efforts to create some order and predictability at home.  In making such efforts, it is important for parents to recognize and understand these different forms of disorganization.  In doing so, they can identify and pinpoint which areas are adversely impacting their children.  Once the problem areas are identified, then more precise and effective organizational strategies can be made.