Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: How Can I Help My Child Remember on His Own?

Remembering everything for school is a matter of executive functioning, which is challenged in children with ADHD. Our coach offers solutions for a smoother morning routine that makes sure lunch, homework, and books aren’t forgotten.

Q: “My son, who is 7, seems very disorganized and lazy. He throws his papers on the ground and forgets his lunchbox and homework everyday even though he knows that’s not the right thing to do. He’s been much better since he started ADHD medication, but it’s still a problem.” — czmum

Hi czmum:

If your son has attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), then he will also have executive functioning challenges. And the challenges you describe above — losing papers, forgetting homework — are controlled by our executive functions.

Have you heard of the term “executive age?” It refers to a person’s age based on how his or her brain is working. Individuals with executive functioning challenges are, on average, approximately 30 percent behind their peers in executive age. Though your son is 7 years old chronologically — and he might be 7 academically or even athletically — if he is challenged by organization, time management, and memory, he is going to behave like a 4 ½-year-old on these types of tasks. How you support him and, more importantly, what you expect from him should be different than for a 7-year-old child without these difficulties.

First off, does your son know how to get things done? Teach him specific routines to be sure that he knows where things go and what to do. You can support these routines with visual cues and prompts to remind your son what he needs to accomplish and how to get it done.

[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

One of my favorite ways to do this is to post directions. Instead of just writing “remember homework” on a sticky note, write out step-by-step instructions that might go something like this. “Homework on the kitchen table > Homework in the backpack > Backpack by the front door.” Want to have some fun with it? Take photos of your son doing each step and post those too so he sees how to move through his routine.

If you’d like to learn more about executive functioning, check out our one-hour “Late, Lost and Lagging Behind” video, chock-full of information on executive functioning.

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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