As many of us know, organizing has many benefits. It can recharge us, motivate us, relieve us, and simplify us. Adults can acknowledge these rewards and understand their power. However, children may need guidance to that insight, especially children who have disabilities. And we believe organization is crucial for children with disabilities.
Structure, by definition, is anything composed of parts, arranged in someway; an organization. Without structure, all that remains are individual parts; disorganization. Children with disabilities thrive in environments with intentional structure. It allows them to follow through with basic tasks without having to process the “how” every time.
“The key to a successful learning environment is structure.” Cara Carroll, teacher
Many teachers rely on routines and procedures to maintain classroom management by creating systems to help students function and gain independence. Repetition is one of the most effective techniques in special education. Organization is, in essence, a habitat for repetition.
Creating an accessible system within a bedroom, pantry, bathroom, playroom, or homework station for children with disabilities can aid in the successful flow of routines. Children with disabilities sometimes miss steps because they can’t find what they need. Organization and systems reduce that anxiety and uncertainty. Using clear storage containers and labels provide accessibility and minimize confusion. Knowing that everything has a place is a valuable tool to use with all children and promotes responsibility and accountability.
By including children with disabilities in the creation and maintenance of organization, it fosters independence, boosts confidence, and empowers them to understand that they are capable. For most parents, guardians, and friends of individuals with disabilities, removing the barriers to functionality is a main goal, thus attaining the greatest possible growth.
Above is an example of a chart that children can use to monitor their progress when working toward a particular goal. In this scenario, the child’s reward/goal was to play a videogame. After completing the four desired tasks, crossing out one letter for each, they’ve reached their goal. The chart is an active reminder of what they are working for!
Below are some basic techniques that can be extremely helpful when organizing kids with disabilities:Use a schedule. Create a plan for the day, including time of day. This will help develop routines while decreasing urgency. Time is a difficult concept for children with disabilities to understand, so representing time in the form of a list is a sequential, straightforward way of demonstrating expectation.
- Allow for choices! Most education and parenting guides encourage the use of choices with children with disabilities. But be thoughtful about the amount of choices. Children with disabilities can often be overwhelmed with too many options and become even more stressed.
- Lessen the amount of distractions in bedrooms, pantries or homework stations by designating areas, limiting what is at eye level to just important everyday items and using word labels or pictures.
- Use visuals, such as labels with words or pictures. Matching is an essential skill that reduces error. Labels provide a quick reference and make sorting easier, a task that is often challenging for children with disabilities. Once visuals/labels are a part of the home routine, they can be used to aid other tasks such as chores. For example, familiar labels on drawers and cabinets can be used for unloading the dishwasher.
Always remember… “Organization isn’t about perfection; it’s about efficiency, reducing stress and clutter, saving time [and money] and improving your overall quality of life.” Christina Scalise, author “Organize Your Life and More”