By Tracie Utter
Understand the disorder:
Typically, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children is not a good mix for getting and staying organized. One of the best ways for a child with ADHD to get organized is to have a parent or guardian emulate the desired behavior. The child needs to see how they are supposed to act.
Parents and environment matter. It is common knowledge that ADHD is heredity, however, being disorganized is not heredity (although the medical community believes there is a hoarding gene passed down). But, children get used to what they see. If their environment is cluttered, this is what they are familiar with and believe is normal. We organizers know, chaos does not promote good behavior. Children with ADHD perform better in stable environments. Things like: consistent place to do homework, solid colors on bedroom walls and linens, clear floors, a home for all of their stuff, and more.
I am from Kentucky, our local paper recently reported that we are one of eleven states that have the highest level of youth with ADHD. So, it is no surprise that a lot of my clients have ADHD. Although I work mainly with adults, many are undiagnosed as children and learn to compensate out of desperation. At some point, that no longer works and they are forced to deal with their situation. Better to learn as a child than as an adult.
As a professional organizer, I find that working with children who have ADHD is much different than working with adults who have ADHD. It boils down to maturity, which children lack. A child may not care about being organized (probably due to their personality or because someone is always doing it for them). ADHD adults, on the other hand, typically want to be organized. They have spent a lifetime, unsuccessfully trying to fit into a world that demands organization and they are exhausted. No matter how great of an organizer I am, if the client does not care, it will not happen.
Advice for parents and guardians:
Children with ADHD need guidance to get organized. It is up to the parent or guardian to educate themselves on the best methods to providing guidance. If you are new to ADHD, here is a tip: you are going to have to learn about managing your child’s behavior before you can teach them to stay organized. Many of the same methods that work for adult with ADHD, work for children with ADHD…limit distractions, emphasize what is important, create reminders, stay healthy, and much more.
Because children with ADHD will always struggle with control, teaching them how to organize their stuff and time needs to be introduced at the appropriate time. In my opinion, there is no perfect age to start the training but the sooner the better. As soon as they are able to understand and handle delegated tasks, the time is right. That is a decision for the parents. Please note, teaching and delegating organizing tasks to siblings without ADHD, will probably be much different…for example, a child without ADHD might be able to do their homework in a private, quiet place much sooner than a child with ADHD. An ADHD child left alone to manage their time will inevitably incur too many distractions.
There are a multitude of resources to help parents learn about ADHD in children. A Google search might be a good place to start but I suggest a healthcare professional, possibly your child’s pediatrician. Most pediatrician will refer you to the next step.