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Dear ADDitude: How Can I Help My Son Stay Organized?

“My 12-year-old can’t keep track of papers, forgets to turn in assignments, and loses his notes. What can we do?” The ADDitude community responds.

ADDitude Answers

People often recommend colored folders for organization, but they did not help my son. What we found worked best (after a million different tries!) was one large binder that holds everything.

So, inside that large binder (Case It brand, which is heavy duty because my son picks at and tears apart everything) is:

> One pocket folder for all papers. (He cannot manage multiple folders, so the goal is to just get everything in the binder and home.)

> Planner, with binder clip holding open the current week.

> Pencils in the zipper pocket (which I have to replenish almost every day-don’t know what he does with 3-4 pencils each day, but they disappear)

> Extra paper, lined and graph (only 10 or so sheets)

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Even that is tough to manage for my son (6th grade). I have gone 3 rounds with every teacher for several years now to help him write in his planner and put appropriate materials in the binder. Right now, his special ed teacher fills it out every day-I have asked several times for them to oversee HIM doing it, so he will learn these skills, but her writing it all down was the best I could do.

You should ask for a similar accommodation. Ideally, each teacher during each class is checking his planner for accuracy and his folder for materials needed.

Here’s more ideas for organization at school:

> 9 Tips for Using a School Planner Successfully

> Keeping it Together in Middle School: Your Organized ADHD Teen

> Help Your ADHD Child Organize Homework

> Organization Skills for Students

Posted by Penny Williams
ADDconnect Moderator, Author on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

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A Reader Answers

My son is also 12 and in middle school. His teacher still checks his planner every afternoon and I still check it in the evening. We make sure he writes himself notes to remember things in it (as well as the homework everyone is copying from the board) and follow up with reminders too. The usual small planner they give middle schoolers wasn’t enough for my son, so I designed my own. It has lots of space for him to write, a section for each subject each day, and check boxes to check things off as he goes.

To keep track of his work at school, he has a Duo-Tang folder for each subject. The other kids have binders, but he just couldn’t keep it organized. We thought having everything all in one place would be a good thing, but it didn’t work for our son. Finally, every so often, the class aide helps him go through the folders and organize things.

His teacher is pushing him to get notes from friends for things he misses, which I think is important, but it’s very hit or miss at this point. I’m hoping this is a skill he can pick up this year and next in time for high school where teachers won’t follow after him as much as they do now.

Posted by Rai0414

A Reader Answers

It sounds like your son needs help with: turning in assignments, remembering what is said in class, and being organized.

Here are some tips my family has tried:

1) Get a different color folder for each subject. Then, attach a bright colored Post-It note that extends beyond the folder to each homework assignment that needs to be turned in. Every time he sees the flag he will know to hand it in.

2) Ask the teacher if your child could have a copy of another child’s notes if he isn’t ready to take notes in class, or loses his.

3) Ask the school to start using an app (e.g., Showbie) where the instruction for each class is posted so parents can be sure work is completed.

4) Teach your son to use a planner and check the planner nightly (Mom’s and Dad’s homework). When you do this, go through his backpack and help him find places for loose papers. Offer rewards for writing in his planner,

5) Ask the teacher to assign a peer buddy (everyone in class should have one) who you can call to find out assignments that don’t get written down.

Posted by BensonAdvocates

A Reader Answers

I know some people advocate color coding – anything that will draw attention. It sounds good, but never really worked for our son and it wasn’t a system that he, himself, was good at “operating.” We found that the simpler the better had to be our motto. Instead of an agenda, which apparently was too much trouble, I made weekly, agenda cards on large index cards, with classes listed in order. This went on top of the stuff in his multi-subject binder, so he only had to pull ONE thing out of his backpack. We also went back to a one folder system similar to elementary school – papers to come home, papers to be turned in. Because homework is often given out at the very end of class, he truly didn’t have time to put it with the right class, so that could be done when he got home.

Anything we try to do has to be revisited over and over because he continues to resist the very systems that keep him afloat. That is our most fervent wish – for him to fully acknowledge that he needs the help and then actually use it. I can’t tell you how many lists we’ve created that he then ignores. This is one of those executive function things that he may never actually “learn” and I had to realize that to manage my own frustration. Unfortunately, the only people we have met to date that get this are the Special Ed staff.

When he is overwhelmed by the quantity of work, (especially with projects) I take a look. If it is something I think can be accommodated, I email the teacher and ask if there can be a reduction in scope or amount so that he can still show the level of work s/he is looking for without penalizing him for being slow on task.

Posted by BLF

A Reader Answers

One idea that has worked with my 6th grader is to have a red folder in addition to his binder. The binder should be organized every evening, but what parent wants to do that each night? Instead I put two signs inside the red folder, one that says “work to be handed in” and the other that says “work to be completed.” I remind my son every morning to show the folder to his teachers so that whatever work is done, gets handed in and he gets credit for it. Then, each night I look through it. We organize the binder once a week. The folder has been working for about 3 weeks. Good luck.

Posted by LFD

A Reader Answers

My son is 15 and does very well in school, but he has always had a problem with turning in his assignments and projects. His poor executive functions keep him from following through.

We’ve tried therapy, medication – you name it – but it didn’t help. What does help are constant reminders. I’m an ADHD adult and I have reminders for everything. I’ve gotten my son an iPhone so he can use the reminder apps, and notes to keep track of what’s due.

It’s more work for you, but you may want to try to sit with him every evening and talk about what’s due and if you can, set reminders for the next day. That has worked better than anything else for my son and me. I hope that was helpful.

Posted by TMC

This question was originally asked on the ADDConnect forums. Read the original discussion here.

[Calendars, Clocks, and Confidence: Organizational Skills for School]