Organize Your Child with Special Needs - Part Two - School

Many children with special needs have poor organizational skills. Disorganization makes school difficult.  Disorganization causes problems such as lost books, school supplies and school notices, missing handouts and assignments, and forgotten homework.  These problems increase children’s stress levels and decrease their ability to do well at school. 

Credit: Wikimedia

In the first part of this two-part series, we looked at ways to help children with special needs get organized at home.  Now we will look at some tips to help your children’s schoolwork stay organized. 

Set up a study area

Children need a designated place for homework and study.  Find an area where your children are less likely to be distracted.  Put a desk with drawers and a chair in the study area.  Make sure the area is well lit.

  • Stock this area with pens, pencils, papers, crayons, rulers, etc.  A well-equipped study area means your children do not need to leave their study area to get something they need for their homework.  
  • Get a desktop organizer to hold the objects your children use most often. Store other items in the desk drawers.  Label each drawer with both a word and a picture showing what is in it.  If the desk does not have drawers or you are using a table, put a set of clear plastic drawers beside or under the desk or table.
  • If you don’t have enough space for a desk, use a cardboard box to make a three-sided partition and place it on a table to make a study station.  You can also use this cardboard partition if your child is easily distracted or if you have several children working at the same table.  Alternatively, you can buy a Pop-Up Partition.
  • Put a clock and timer in your child's homework area.  Even if your child cannot tell time or has trouble with the concept of time, having a clock nearby allows you and your child to see how much time different tasks are taking.
  • A timer is helpful for several reasons.  If your child is supposed to spend a set amount of time doing homework, use the timer to measure this.  If your child's homework has several steps or questions, use the timer to set the amount of time your child spends on each question.
  • Keep a supply of scrap paper in the study area that children can use to draft answers, work out math problems, do mind-mapping, etc. Many children with special needs use mind-mapping techniques for schoolwork. Mind-maps are visual outlines of thoughts and ideas.  Children draw mind-maps on paper.  In addition, some educational software programs help students develop and use mind-mapping techniques. 

Example of a Mind-Map 

Consider getting two of everything

Sometimes the best solution to disorganisation is to get two of everything.  The less your child has to bring back and forth between school and home means objects are less likely to be lost or forgotten. This solution is costly. Alternatively, think of the things that your child forgets or loses most often and get duplicates of those items.

Credit:  EvelynGiggles on Flickr
  • If your child uses any unusual or special tools (compass, T-square, coloured pens) for school get two of each tool.  Have one set for home and one for school. Your goal is to reduce the number of objects your child has to bring from school to home. In addition, having two of each tool saves you from an emergency trip to the store for a certain colour marker.
  • Depending on the level of your child's disability, consider getting two sets of school books - one for home and one for school.  Alternatively, check if any of your child's books are available in an electronic form and get electronic copies for home use.
  • Give your child a clear pencil-case for school so he can see exactly what is in it. Keep another set of these school supplies at home so your child can leave his pencil-case at school or in his school bag.

Color-coding books

Many occupational therapists recommend color-coding books to help children with organizational deficits.  Color-coding is helpful, but is most effective if you have the cooperation of your child's school. 

Credit:  Nemo on Pixabay
Color-coding is just what it says. You give each subject a color and all books, notebooks and folders for that subject are the same color.  For example, all books related to science are green and all English books are blue.  

Use colored folders at home to keep any loose papers in and continue with the color-coding scheme.  Some families extend the color-coding concept to cover all of their children.

Some children find it too difficult to manage all the books, notebooks, handouts and folders.  In this situation, talk with your child's teacher and work out a mutually agreeable solution.  For example, could your child use one notebook for all his school notes?  Then when your child comes home from school, your child put the notes into color-coded files for each subject.

Use a Diary or Planner

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Teaching your child to use a diary or planner is particularly important for older children.  When their class schedules are different every day, children need a system where they prioritize their homework and make sure they have done the homework for the classes they have the next day. 

Children also need a study plan. Ask your child's teacher(s) about the areas of study your child should prioritize.

Instead of (or in addition) to using a diary, get a whiteboard or large planning calendar to put on the wall in the study area.  The whiteboard shows the child's homework and study schedule.

Look into accommodations

Credit: John Bolland on Flickr
Some children with special needs are entitled to accommodations on the amount of homework they need to do.  If for example, your child is supposed to do 45 minutes of homework on school nights, help your child use this time most efficiently. Allocate a certain amount of time for each subject that he has homework in - this is when having the timer mentioned above can come in handy.

If your child struggles to get homework done every evening, talk with his school about modifying his homework.  The extra stress on your child and your family outweighs any potential benefit of forcing your child to do more homework than he is able to. (See Managing homework when your children have special needs.)

Include schoolwork in routines

In part one, we looked at developing visual routines for children with special needs.  Add school related tasks to your children's routines including:

  • Packing school bags the night before school
  • Charging tablets, phones and/or laptops at night
  • Double checking school bags in the morning
  • Times for homework 
  • Getting uniform or clothes ready the night before school

Get an easily accessible locker

Credit: Clemns v Vogelsang on Flickr
If you child has a locker at school, make sure it is easily accessible.  Since it may take your child longer to get her things in and out of her locker, she needs to have easy access to it.  Before the school year starts, talk to the principal and request a locker in an easy to reach location.

If the locker has a key, get a duplicate key made and keep it in the school office so your child can get the duplicate if he cannot find the original.  If the locker has a combination, make sure someone else at the school has the combination so your child can still access her locker if she can't remember her combination.  It is also helpful to tape a copy of your child's schedule to the inside of her locker.

If you haven't already, look at the first part of this series that focuses on organizing your child at home.  

Keep in mind that some or all of these tips may not apply to your child depending on the level and type of his or her disability.  Please share any tips that you have found helpful.

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

What parents should know if their child gets the flu

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Because their immune systems are not fully developed, infants and children are at a greater risk of getting the flu. In addition, if they get the flu, their risk of developing complications is also higher. Your child may have the flu if she has some or all of these symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny Nose
  • Headaches
  • Earaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

If your child is age 2 or younger, or has a chronic health condition such as asthma, contact your child’s doctor as soon as symptoms appear. There is no cure for the flu, but in some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. Antiviral medications can lessen the symptoms and duration of the flu. This medication is most effective if taken within the first two days of illness, so it is important to contact your doctor quickly if you think your child has the flu.

Credit:  Randen Pederson on Flickr
Parents are warned to take flu symptoms in their children seriously, especially if they think their children are very ill. The latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that 45 children died from influenza-associated illness so far this flu season. "People should have a low threshold and contact the health care system, whether that means going to the emergency room or calling their doctor," said Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer in the CDC's influenza division. “That should be done early."

When to call the doctor

If you think your child has the flu, Seattle Children’s Hospital advises parents to contact their children’s doctors. Doctors can determine if their children need medical attention. Parents are advised to immediately contact their doctor if their children:
Credit:  Eden, Janine and Jim on Flickr

  • Look or act very sick
  • Have difficulty breathing (under 1-year-old) not relieved by cleaning the nose
  • Have difficulty breathing (over 1-year-old) present when not coughing
  • Lips or face have turned bluish during coughing
  • Are wheezing
  • Stridor (harsh sound breathing in) occurs
  • Ribs are pulling in with each breath (retractions)
  • Have chest pain and can't take a deep breath
  • May be dehydrated (no urine in more than 12 hours AND very dry mouth, no tears, ill-appearing, etc.)
  • Have weak immune systems (sickle cell disease, HIV, chemotherapy, organ transplant, chronic steroids, etc.)
  • Are SEVERE HIGH-RISK patients such as those with chronic lung disease (exception: mild asthma), heart disease, bedridden, etc.
  • Are aged under 12 weeks with fever above 100.4° F (38.0° C) rectally (Caution: Do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen)
  • Have a fever over 104° F (40° C) and not improved 2 hours after fever medicine

Flu Treatment

If your child has the flu without other complications, your child's treatment may
Credit: MarkBuckawicki via Wikimedia Commons

  • Rest
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Saline nasal drops for blocked nose
  • Use petroleum jelly around the nose to help with irritation
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and fever (do not give aspirin to children)
  • Warm chicken broth or hard candy for sore throats
  • Honey, warm fluids or cough drops for coughs

If at any point you are concerned about your child’s health, contact your doctor or hospital.

More information about the flu and flu treatment is available from HealthyChildren.orgWebMD and the CDC.

This article is for information purposes only. It is not intended and should not be interpreted as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay getting medical advice or treatment based on the information in this article.


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Broadening the Debate: Family Support in the Context of Substance Use.

Western Region Drugs Task Force Logo

The Western Region Drugs Task Force invites you to Broadening the Debate: Family Support in the Context of Substance Use.

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