Disorganization is one of the hallmarks of the ADHD brain. We’ve already talked about the need for external structure to improve performance for ADHD’ers.
This is the first step in developing an internalized ability to organize. For a child with ADHD to learn to be a reasonably organized person, he or she must experience organization and observe organization. There must be an adult in the environment who is reasonably well-organized to serve as a model.
Knowing that the heritability of ADHD is about 80%, it is likely that there is also one disorganized adult in the environment. This adult must model attempts to be organized and, most importantly, place a positive value on being organized.
It’s really difficult for a child with ADHD to make efforts at being organized if one parent is extremely negative about organization or makes fun of it (look how obsessive-compulsive she is).
There is no one way to be organized. There are countless systems, organizers and strategies for keeping up. Some school systems even give out agendas. The problem is finding a match between the system and the ADHD’ers cognitive style.
There are two big differences in cognitive style which, in a gross oversimplification, we’ll call left brain and right brain.
The left brain organizational systems are typically linear, overwhelmingly logical and frankly boring. They consist of organizing by to do lists which are, in some cases, merely straight lists of assignments done without any prioritizing.
The right brain systems are more visual and emphasize visual systems for organization that are based on using visual cues to attain organization.These systems will tend to use color or other visually striking ways to organize information. Mind mapping is a new and highly effective strategy for using visual techniques to improve organization and planning. It’s available for computer use from a variety of free downloads including http://freemind.sourveforge.net.
For people who are highly visual, mind mapping or color coding are likely to be more effective strategies for organization. These are also the kind of people who do not do well with file cabinets and other linear organization strategies. These people need to see things to be able to work with them. They need large desks with room for different piles of stuff. They are not happy nor are they effective with a bare desk and a full file cabinet. If they can’t see it, it doesn’t exist therefore they will forget about it and never get around to doing anything about it.
These people typically don’t like paper with lines, staying inside the box and other manifestations of organization. Give them a blank piece of paper and teach them mind mapping strategies and their performance will improve.
More left brained people are more comfortable with a linear language and logic-based systems, but if they have ADHD, they are going to need to make this system more interesting. There are lots of ways of doing this, but with kids now days using some electronic or digital organizer will likely be more effective.
Kids typically don’t like large clunky organizers like most of the agendas, schools issue. They want something small that will fit in a pocket and are cool or hot or whatever the current term is for something that’s fashionable. PDA’s (personal digital assistant) are an option as are most cell phones. Paper and pencil systems, like Day Timer, can also be helpful. They come with custom covers/holders that sometimes pass the cool test.
Once you’ve got the hardware, the trick is to use it regularly. You’re ahead of the game if you match cognitive style with the organization system. You still have to teach some of the basic techniques of organization such as taking big projects and breaking them down into smaller, easy-to-accomplish tasks and tracking them.
To get regular use from the system you have to check regularly and insure that your ADHD’er is using it. After 8 to 12 weeks of checking daily, you can likely back off some.
This combination of external organization, organizational strategies keyed to cognitive style and regular checking should cause your ADHD’er to internalize organization.
More information seeADHD brains — external structure.