Deciphering a Student’s Disorganization

A child’s disorganization is a troublesome situation for many teachers and parents. Inconsistency is part of the whole theme. That is, the student will show skills which are on target in one assignment while at other times, the child falls apart. This is often a warning sign for attention problems. In these situations, the student’s self-monitoring skills seem to turn on and off. As an English and literacy teacher, I have seen my students overlook easily correctible mistakes in the editing process.

Another significant problem to consider; is the child erratic in his/her output? Is there a lapse in the active working memory? As an example, I often notice, during writing assignments, that the student has trouble simultaneously spelling and applying mechanics rules like paragraphing.

If your child is disorganized, it is often an outgrowth of a neurodevelopmental profile and should be assessed by the school and the team. Challenges with functions such as attention processing control and spatial ordering can lead to a disorganized space and materials such as in the child’s locker, backpack or desk.

The first step, is to clarify the nature of the disorganization. Is it space and materials, thinking process or both?

For both parent and teacher, it’s necessary to consider all you know about the child by watching, listening and looking at work samples. These are clues to finding out what neurodevelopmental issues might be causing the disorganization. When you can identify where the problem lies, you can then set up some strategies that will help the student become more organized.

As an example, in a book entitled, “How Can My Kid Succeed in School?” by Craig Pohlman, Ph.D., it is suggested that you:

Make it a game or fun. Be creative about making things fun as well as substantive. Innovate ways to make organizing (in this case) as enjoyable as possible.

Be creative about leveraging strengths and affinities. Meaning, find out what a child’s strength is, and try to take advantage of it. For instance, good expressive language could be used to talk through new information to bolster conceptual understanding.

Be sure to tell the child why you selected a strategy, and how it addresses his weaknesses but taps into his strengths. More on this next week –


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