How I Got Organized in Middle School

Ali, 14, learned to make the grade - and friends - after hitting the wall in middle school.


Filed Under: Homework and Test Help, ADHD Time Management, ADHD Coaching, Organization Tips for ADHD Kids,
Ali Comstock is now thriving in school and manging her ADD / ADHD. ADDitude Magazine

Because I am no longer so overwhelmed with school, thanks to my coach, I'm making more friends.

Ali, diagnosed with ADHD at age 5

Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) at age 5, Ali Comstock, now 14, was able to manage her early elementary school years, thanks to daily medication and a moderate workload. But each year in school the work became more demanding for her. When Ali entered the eighth grade last year, she was lucky to achieve a C average. But, even worse, she was increasingly anxious about being unprepared for school every day.

Ali's parents were frustrated and disheartened, but they knew that their daughter could do better. This past summer, a month before she began her freshman year at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, Ali agreed to meet for an hour a week with Dee Crane, an ADD coach affiliated with the Melmed Center in Scottsdale. She's only three months into her sessions, and there have already been some dramatic changes. Hear what her parents, her coach, and Ali herself have to say about how the coaching experience has helped so far:

Kathleen Comstock, Ali's mom: Most of Ali's struggles were related to school. For a while, I was worried that she was going to flunk out of eighth grade because she couldn't juggle assignments. Getting organized was a problem for her. Finding important papers or her assignment pad became almost an impossible task for her. She wasn't turning in her work on time. Many times I'd find out that Ali had a big project due the next day and that she'd never mentioned it to me or started it.

I resented the amount of time I had to spend with her on homework. I work full-time and hated coming home and having to work with her for an hour on a math assignment that should have taken 15 minutes. She couldn't focus and got up from the table every five minutes for a glass of water, something to eat, or to answer the phone.

We started arguing about homework all the time. Yelling didn't solve anything, though. Ali sat there and didn't say anything, and I felt bad for yelling. I tried to figure out what part of her behavior was due to ADD and what part was simply being a teenager.

My husband is a professional baseball coach, so he understands that coaching can motivate a person. We knew that it was time to remove ourselves from the coach's role.

Keith, Ali's dad: I empathize with Ali and what she's gone through with ADD because I was a big stutterer. I know how frustrating it can be when you're trying to do your best and you don't know why you aren't achieving it. But at the same time, I knew she could do better. We concluded that getting input from a professional who's trained to work with kids with ADD could help Ali.

Ali: When my parents raised the idea of my seeing a coach, I was all for it. Last year was awful, and I didn't want another year like that. I did poorly in school and I knew it was upsetting my parents. Whenever I got back a test with a low score, it bummed me out for the whole day. I could never enjoy myself because I was constantly worried about school. Even when I'd go to bed, I'd lie there for a long time thinking about the homework that I didn't finish or the project that I hadn't even started.

I was interested to learn about organization strategies. The first day I met with Dee, she spent two hours getting to know me by asking questions about my family and what I wanted to work on. I said that I wanted to work on organization skills.

Part of the problem with homework was that I didn't write down my assignments! I thought I'd remember. Or I wrote them down, and then didn't remember where. Dee taught me strategies that gave me more control. Now I write my assignments on individual sheets of paper and keep them in a folder. When I get home I take a short break, then I take out my homework folder. I look through each assignment and get started on the hardest subjects, like math and science. As I finish each assignment, I move it from the "to-do" side of the folder to the "completed" side, so I can see what I've accomplished. At first, I'd take a break after I finished each subject and be finished around dinnertime. But now I don't even need breaks and I'm usually finished by four-thirty!

Dee Crane, Ali's ADD coach: When I first met Ali, she seemed comfortable with herself, but she was at a loss as to how to use her own resources to succeed academically. We established that she was a serious procrastinator. She spent too much time nagging herself about homework and not enough time doing it. "I know I have homework. I better get started. I don't even know where to begin. I can't believe I didn't do my homework, study for that test..."

By arranging all of her homework-assignment sheets in front of her - the "Pile System" - Ali's able to come up with a strategy. She estimates how much time and effort each assignment will require, sorts the papers accordingly, and is left with one pile of assignment sheets in the order in which she'll complete them and a clear picture of how much she has to do overall. By prioritizing her tasks, she's taking charge and essentially coaching herself.

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