Thursday, August 4, 2011

4 Helpful Tips For Organizing Autistic Kid's Toys, Schedules and Schoolwork

It's important for all children to learn how to be organized and this is especially true for autistic children. Kids who develop good organizational skills are significantly more likely to excel in school and life. Learning organizational skills helps develop their focus, concentration and motor skills.

Organization can be more challenging with children on the autism spectrum because they are easily distracted, require visual aids and usually have limited motor skills.

Autistic children tend to be visual learners, which means they generally learn and perform better when provided with visual instructions and prompts. These are some tips on how you can help your child be organized, develop skills and make smooth transitions between activities using visual instructions and prompts.

These tips vary depending on your child's age and abilities. You can use this as a reference guide and adjust as needed.

#1 - Create a bin system for your child's supplies and toys. Separate the types of toys and supplies into individual bins. Take photographs of each type of toy or supply contained within and tape the photograph to the front of each corresponding bin.

For example: Tape a photograph of your child's bin filled with building blocks and tape it to the front of the bin. Do the same with markers, plush toys, crayons, and so on. Even if the bins are clear (transparent), it will be easier for your child to be organized if s/he has a visual cue as to where the toys or supplies belong. Bins with easy to remove lids or no lids tend to work well.

#2 - Display childrens' toys, supplies and clothing. It is easier for autistic children to stay organized and function if they can see all of the their belongings. Drawers do not usually work well for children on the autism spectrum. Hang as many of their clothes as possible or fold them and place them on shelves, preferably cubbies. Place jeans in one cubby, sweatshirts in another and so on. Socks, underwear and pajamas are best placed in transparent bins with photographs taped to the front. If you don't have cubbies, you may tape photographs on the front of each drawer. If possible do not combine items into one drawer.

#3 - Set up daily routines and stick to them as much as possible. Creating regular daily routines can make transitioning from one activity to another less upsetting. Children on the autism spectrum often thrive when they have daily routines and usually react poorly to changes in routines. Once a solid routine is created small changes can be introduced slowly and can help your child develop coping strategies to deal with transitions. It is best to introduce changes in routines in very small steps. Gradually, your child will be able to use strategies like social stories and self talk to work through the anxiety they experience when making transitions.

An example of an organizing routine is to give your child a 10-minute heads-up before dinner each evening and then have them set an egg timer for 10 minutes. Teach them that when the timer goes off, they are to pick up all of their toys and place them in the appropriate bins.

This establishes a routine, lets them know what to expect, gives them a 10-minute lead-time and then provides them a distinct audio clue when it's time to pick up and get organized. It is important to have them set the egg timer, not you. It gets them more involved in the process so they will be more likely to follow through with the routine.

An addition to this routine could be that when the egg timer goes off and it's time to pick up and get organized, you play a specific song that your child then recognizes as the "pick-up and get organized" song. This can make it fun, playful, soothing and also can help keep them on task and get the work done faster.

#4 Create a visual schedule for your child. Picture schedules work best for autistic kids. Set up the picture schedule so that when your child is finished with the task/activity they can move that picture to the all done side. Essentially you are creating an interactive picture schedule that your child can "control". Their picture schedule could also be organized by first, next, last. It will give them the order of the tasks and they can move the picture to the "completed" side.

Using visual aids and keeping it simple are the most important keys for autistic children. Of course all of these tips are only to be used as guidelines and ideas. Each child on the autistic spectrum reacts a little differently, has different needs and is functioning at varying levels. Consider modifying and adjusting these ideas as you see fit based on your child's needs, abilities and age.

Heidi DeCoux is a Professional Organizer, Public Speaker, and Author of the Fast-Filing Method audio program available at She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Heidi is dedicated to helping people live their best lives. She offers a FREE monthly e-newsletter with tips and solutions on how to make your life easier, calmer and more organized. To sign up, visit her website at and click on e-Solutions.

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