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How to Help Your Sensory Child Get Organized

Mighty Mommy welcomes Carolyn Dalgliesh, a professional organizer and author of The Sensory Child Gets Organized. Carolyn shares tips to modify your home environment to support sensory and disorganized kids. Learn how you can make your children's home and school life run more smoothly.

By
Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #313

MM: What are some of the most effective tools that parents can use to help their kids stay on track?

Tip #1: Have a Central Message Area

A Central Message Area in the main living area in your home - usually the kitchen, mudroom, or family room - can be life changing.  It works so well because it makes time visual, helps all of us stay on track and organized, and it's something that kids are already familiar with since many teachers have a “planning station” in the classroom. The Central Message Area would hold:

  • A monthly calendar for longer term planning (usually for us parents).
  • A weekly dry erase calendar to help you plan out the week ahead with your child.
  • A cork board that holds daily school and after-school activity schedules for each child in the household.
  • This could also be the home for chore cards and social expectations.

Tip #2: Have Regular Planning Sessions

For example, on Sunday nights, you might write out and plan the week ahead visually and talk about whatʼs coming up. For younger kids, you could do yesterday, today, and tomorrow format.

MM: Do you have any tips specific to staying on track with homework?

Tip #1: Know the Difference Between a Planner and a Plan

Just because our kids know how to fill out a planner, doesnʼt mean they know how to create a plan of attack to get homework done - this is actually where many kids get stuck. Create an easy external visual homework plan that doesnʼt require a lot of extra writing. Here are some examples:

  • A map of 3 work times and 3 break times.

  • A magnetic white board with TO DO and DONE columns. Have a subject magnet for each class.

Tip #2: Bring in Controlled Distractions

One of the best things we can do is allow for controlled distractions. If we know our kids are prone to finding distractions, then letʼs give them that input in controlled ways. Certain distractions will actually allow for more focused, effective homework sessions. Some examples include disk seats to allow for controlled movement, chewing gum, or listening to music.

Tip #3: Location, Location, Location

Sometimes picking the best homework location is connected to different levels of cognitive shifts that occur.

For example, some of our more rigid and concrete thinkers might associate homework with school and not be as effective getting work done at home. They might need to complete their homework at school at the end of the school day. Other kids might be better at doing homework in a neutral spot, not home and not school. For them, a local library could be a good solution

For kids who can transition to doing homework at home, have a dedicated homework spot that allows you to eliminate some distractions but that is located  close enough for you to offer guidance or verbal prompts. As kids get older, you might begin to have an active homework spot (for busy work that gets done better with some noise or distractions) and a quiet spot for more focused study work.

MM: What is the best way that parents can support a sensory or disorganized child?

Tip #1: Let Go of Judgment

Nothing will cause more stress then us constantly giving our kids the “Youʼre doing this wrong” message. In fact, it will often make their challenges more pronounced. The fact is that the part of the brain that manages executive function skills is still developing up until the age of 25. So learning is still happening and these skills can be taught and enhanced.

If we come to the table with the belief that this is all OK, that itʼs a teaching moment, and weʼre on their team - it can be a huge support.

Tip #2: Prioritize 

If you know your child has a hard time remembering things, then prioritize what needs to be remembered. We often think that many rigid, anxious, or distracted kids are all or nothing thinkers. But guess what: So are we when we expect our forgetful kids to remember everything!

So when we remove less important things from the “What needs to be remembered” list, their remembering brain relaxes a bit so they can be successful.

Tip #3: Break Tasks Down into Small Steps with a Visual Checklist

Knowing that many sensory kids are easily overwhelmed and have a hard time planning and organizing in order to get things done, we need to work within their learning style. And we do that by breaking down tasks into smaller steps and creating a visual checklist to keep them on track. They will come to learn how much this helps and begin to make lists for themselves.

MM: What else would you like to share about  how all families (with or without a sensory child) can stay on top of their game when it comes to organization?

Remember that small changes are really big changes. Working to provide structure, routines, and visual aids and to practice organization regularly will develop the right skills over time. Remember the old “It’s a marathon, not a race analogy?” It couldn’t be any more true in this case.

Sometimes the best thing we can get is an objective point of view. Donʼt be afraid to bring someone else in to work with your child (or to help you). Sometimes getting space to observe and learn from someone else puts us in the best position to support our childʼs journey.

The goal here is to eventually teach your child how to advocate for themselves. When our kids develop a balanced self-awareness, a knowledge about what is hard for them and what their gifts are, they can learn how to support themselves and to know when and how to ask for help. This is true empowerment for the long term.

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How have you helped organize your child at home and school? Share your thoughts in the Comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mightymommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.