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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Organizing for ADD/ADHD

(As published in Bright, May 2008)

By Suzanna Letchford, Professional Organizer and owner of A Space That Works Organizing.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) pose special challenges when creating and maintaining organizational systems. Though it seems that it is just clutter there are many missing skills that are tied to the issue – the clutter is simply a symptom of a deeper problem. The simple act of organizing has greatly affected many areas of my clients’ lives; I have heard numerous reports of children taking on more responsibility and being more motivated after just one organizing session. Things like getting dressed, getting ready for bed and cleaning up on their own are huge changes that occur after they have a system in place that supports their needs.

Although disorders like ADD and ADHD affect individuals differently there are key strategies that can help – adult or child. There are many options available and techniques that can be tailored to your special need. Many Professional Organizers specialize in working with ADD/ADHD and have a long list of ideas but here are a few of the basics.

Make it Fun. A lack of focus is one of the most noticeable traits of the ADD/ADHD child. This occurs most often when tasks are uninteresting, routine or tedious. Matters like scheduling, organization and maintenance are particularly difficult. Making organizing into a game or challenge is an effective way to keep their interest. Setting a time limit and challenging them to complete a certain task, such as gathering all Lego’s into the Lego bin before the timer goes off offers motivation and excitement to an otherwise boring job. Make sure these time limits are small and you keep the excitement up by announcing time left, using music or some other reminder to point out the time ticking away. Create new challenges frequently to keep them fresh.

Get them on board. When your child has a say in what is happening to their space they are more likely to be involved and interested. This also helps them want to maintain their space. Let them help choose bins and tell you what their most important items are. Display special memories on higher shelves and use bins to keep toys off the floor and out of sight. Limit the number of posters and artwork on the walls and items on surfaces to minimize the busyness in the room – the more serene an atmosphere you can create the more control they will feel they have in their space.

Us e Centers. Create different “centers” in their rooms dedicated to specific activities. Reading centers, art centers, homework centers and more can help define where items belong and give a defined space for activity, creating a sense of structure, order and purpose and making the organizing system more logical.

Label! Using labels or pictures on bins and shelves can help your child remember what goes into bins without having to pull them out and also where to return them when they are finished. Label both the bin itself and the shelf underneath for maximum benefit. Letting the older child create the labels can be a fun project for them, too.

Use the energy. Create small projects that can be done in a short amount of time with high energy if possible. Using the excess energy an ADD person gets is a great way to quickly organize a closet, under a bed or sort a Lego collection. Make sure the project can be completed before energy is completely sapped and be aware and work with, not against, their moods.

Set goals and celebrate. Set goals and celebrate successes – a closet cleaned or a dresser top cleared off is a reason to celebrate! Make noise, sing a song or give a treat when you have accomplished a goal and take time to enjoy it.

Take one bite at a time. For a big project break it down into smaller parts. Decide to do one piece at a time – the bookshelf this weekend and the toy box next weekend. The project will eventually be completed without the burnout.

Create routines. Help your child to create new routines in order to maintain order. Tying a new routine to an old one is a great way to remember the change. Emptying the dishwasher before getting out a breakfast bowl, wiping down the bathroom mirror when brushing their teeth or putting away all of their books when they pull out their nighttime novel are some examples. Placing reminders in hard to ignore areas also works. Leave the garbage bags in front of the bedroom door to remember to take out the trash on the way to the bus or have them place a note on a book-bag so that homework is not forgotten can be especially helpful.

Create support. Many of our distractions can be eliminated simply by being held accountable and having someone pay attention as well. Stay in the room when it is being cleaned to prevent distraction or set a timer to go off every ten minutes so they can check whether they are doing what they should be doing. Hyper-focus (focusing too much time and attention perfecting a small portion of the job while ignoring the larger need) can also be eliminated in this way.

Know when to ask for help. Sometimes we simply do not know the best way to help our loved one. If a job is too overwhelming or you are not sure how to help your child to succeed at organizing professionals are available. A Professional Organizer with training in dealing with ADD/ADHD can help teach time management skills, set up systems that will work with your child’s needs and help you to understand the best way to encourage them.

The best way to organize for ADD/ADHD is to work with it, not against it. Use the fantastic moments of energy and focus to your benefit and create routines that are logical to your child’s way of thinking. Once he/she has built up a list of smaller successes you can continue increasing the responsibilities. They will feel better about themselves and you can feel good knowing that you are giving them skills they can use throughout their lives.

For more ideas on organizing, motivating and scheduling for ADD check out my blog at: and

Suzanna is an organizer with a passion! She is owner of A Space That Works Professional Organizing ( and works with both businesses and families organizing their homes and lives. She has previously worked with special needs children as an Assistant Teacher in the Autism and Special Education classes of an elementary school and high school. She has also spent years volunteering with special needs children and has training in organizing for disabilities and ADD/ADHD. Passion for the process, creative use of space and a supportive and friendly disposition help her in both home and business organization projects.

Storing outfits together or choosing many easy mix and match items, few different colors of socks and limiting the overwhelming number of clothing and accessory choices can help your child succeed in dressing and putting away laundry.

Acknowledge even the small successes.

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

What great ideas for children with ADHD. Organizing really does help both children and adults.
Thank you