National Center for Learning Disabilities

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Organization: A Crucial Executive Skill for Your Child With LD

Getting Organized-Get Organized at Home If you’d just get organized!
How can you find anything in here?
The report is due tomorrow? And you haven’t started it?
How could you forget to turn in your homework? I helped you with it!


What’s one thing that makes for a parent’s unhappy day? Getting a phone call or email from school, informing you that your child—who may spend lots of time doing homework—hasn’t turned anything in for six weeks. This wake-up call may be your first indication that your child is having trouble in school. The information is doubly disconcerting when you find, buried in your child’s heavy backpack, lots of completed homework that was never turned in.

A talk with your child and your child’s teacher may reveal that missing homework is only part of the problem. Your child may also be late with assignments, late to class, frequently without necessary supplies and missing library books. Although your child is intelligent and wants to do well in school, something is getting in the way. Particularly for children with learning disabilities (LD) or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), that “something” is organizational skills.

You Know Your Child!

Of all the brain-based habits of thought known as executive skills, organization looms especially large, particularly for children with learning disabilities. Disorganized children with LD or ADHD are often called lazy, unmotivated—even defiant. You may be one of the few people in your child’s life who understands that learning disabilities complicate children’s development of organizational skills.

All the executive skills are related. The child who doesn’t start the report until the night before it’s due may have difficulty estimating how long a project will take. Your child may panic when a task seems difficult. Your child may get overwhelmed trying to juggle multiple projects, or simply not know how to plan, begin, and follow through with the steps required to get an assignment done. These are all aspects of organization, that crucial skill that enables us to do what needs doing—whether it’s baking a birthday cake, pulling together an agenda for a meeting or completing a science project.

Your child may well understand the value of being organized but may not have the slightest idea how to get that way. That’s where you can provide invaluable assistance and encouragement.

Helping your child learn organizational skills may be quite a challenge for both of you. There is no blueprint for organization. What works one year or for one class will not work for another. Still, if you stay flexible, you can help your child recognize, improve, and work around his or her organizational challenges.

Short-Term Strategies

To help your child, think first of short-term strategies that focus on particular tasks or assignments. When your own project deadlines loom and you have no plan to meet them, you probably feel out of control, maybe even panicky. Disorganized children feel that way too. They may feel helpless in the face of any task that isn’t easy and short. As school gets more challenging, these children’s frustrations escalate and their self-esteem plummets. Juggling multiple projects becomes so difficult that children may opt out and simply drop everything. You can help your child avoid this destructive pattern.

Begin by convincing your child—through your patience, encouragement and good example—that organizational skills will help him feel better about himself. No one likes to feel out of control or on a slippery slope to failure. Your child wants to become more independent, wants you to stop nagging about schoolwork and longs to avoid the fallout from those discouraging parent-teacher conferences. Help your child see that the smallest improvements will make his or her life easier.

Remember that there is only one criterion for an organizational system: it needs to work for your child. It’s crucial for you and your child to communicate openly and for you to approach the problem without being critical or blaming. Partnerships between parents and teachers are essential to help children succeed; your partnership with your child is also essential. Even younger children need to take part in finding solutions. No system will work if your child doesn’t buy into it.
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