What do you do when you realise you need to make your learning spaces ADHD friendly?
Well, if you’re me, you go on a cleaning and reorganising binge. Here are some of the things we’ve been doing that seem to help.
As much as I love the minimalist idea of shelving that is mostly empty, this doesn’t work when you have lots of busy fingers – empty shelves quickly fill up with toys. I have kept it in check with lots of baskets, but the basket colours and general brightly coloured kids toys still scream ‘Look at me! Play with me! Tip me out!’ It’s almost impossible to get my daughter to concentrate on her current activity when there are so many other things to play with.
Now it’s plain, and white (and washable!), yet easy for her to get access and grab her toys she wants to play.
Verdict? Success. The first day of temporary curtains, she actually stuck at one activity for a whole hour and a half – where previously we had had only 5-10 minutes.
Making the walls blank was another strategy that worked.
Sadly, this involved taking down pictures, (and not putting up all the newly framed kids’ art I’d spent days putting together), removing the kids’ posters, and all their little colourful creations. It was a hard thing for us all – we all love seeing and displaying creations. But the results were amazing – both kids found the spaces easier to be in and were more able to concentrate.
I haven’t removed it all though – just those pictures that are visible from the main spaces where we do our school-work. That’s basically both of our main living areas.
This one will sound really obvious, but it didn’t occur to me that it would be a problem. We have our TV in a cabinet with doors – but we never bothered closing them (mostly because that’s where a lot of the kids art supplies were stored – it could be a challenge to watch the TV some days!). But the reflective surface of the TV (even partly obscured) was enough to cause my daughter to get quite distracted as she loved pulling faces and using it like a mirror!
Just out of the direct eye-line in the main room, I have a wall of calendars. My daughter’s is colour-coded with pictures for each activity during the day. Everything from eating to bed-time. It doesn’t have any times on there, which gives it a bit of flexibility – sometimes I’m not sure how long my daughter will do certain activities. As well, if there were times, my son would try to ‘enforce’ times on my daughter as for him, a timetable is an absolute, whereas for her it’s more of a loose guide.
But the calendar helps her to see the organisation for the day, and saves her the stress of being anxious about what might be next. She loves it! She also loves moving the little tag that my son made for her so she would know what she’s up to on the calendar.
But after finding an inexpensive mini-trampoline, we have seen an amazing difference in both kids. Now there is a place for them to ‘get out their wiggles’. And though I originally had plans for it to lurk in the playroom, it’s landed in the lounge room. It really gets that much use. And the kids can use it when they watch a movie, rather than just being sedentary, or after a particularly intense session of learning.
It has though, ended up behind the lounge, rather than directly in front of the door on the way to our main study / eating table. Neither my DH or I particularly enjoyed having to climb over the trampoline to use the lounge room! It did involve a bit of minor reshuffling, but the extra hours of sleep the kids are now getting every evening is worth it.
These are something I struggle to use – mainly because I’m not fond of the idea that the kids need rewards for everyday things. But that’s really just my adult-y NT-ness talking. These things work. OK, they don’t work for my son – the stress of picking a reward is so great (making decisions is not something he likes to rush), that it seems to cancel the joy of earning a treat. But they work for my daughter who is more motivated to sit down to do homeschool activities that don’t immediately thrill her (though she usually ends up loving them to bits and requesting more). It seems to help her get over the ‘I don’t want to start’ hump. So we’ll probably keep judiciously using these for the near future.
Doing Decluttering a Bit at a Time
Decluttering and reorganising can be very stressful for special-needs kids. I have had to do things slowly – a little bit in each room rather than doing ‘all the things’ straight away. And I was also prepared to put things back if it was too much for them to handle.
I also would talk through each change, i.e. ‘I’m going to do X now, in order to make it easier for you to do Y, do you want to give that a go?’
It also helped that I didn’t throw it away, just moved it into bags in another room (our ‘to donate’ pile), and talked them both through the process of ‘donating your old baby toys to other babies to play with’.
This article is a great outline of ways to help special-needs kids cope with the decluttering process.
Verdict? It works – once there is less there, they both seem more able to make decisions and find their things. It’s still a slow work in progress.
This is a new one which has had some (limited) success. It’s basically our trick of last resort. When my daughter is having trouble taking in reminders to complete a task I have found visual reminders work better than verbal ones. A little egg-timer next to her with a gentle verbal reminder to move on to the next task when it runs out tends to get the job done with less catastrophic emotional ‘moments’ (from all of us!)
As basically the Executive Functioning Unit for my kids, I can get quickly overwhelmed with all the minutiae – having to break everything down into small tasks and then monitor each step can get tiring, and I’ve noticed that as a result, I’m not as good at the big picture stuff – it tends to slide if it can’t be done in about 10 minutes or less. I also (much like my kids) tend to hyperfocus – I need some pretty loud and annoying cues to break me out of an activity.
So we’ve been trialling a number of different calendar / reminder systems. And honestly, none of them really work. Loud ones tend to lose dates, others only work if they’re open in a browser, or only on one operating system (at last count, we have three in our house). Others are easy for us to do a quick ‘click and dismiss’. Not good for a set of hyperfocusing brains. Though one of the more annoying features is the inability of any of these programs to handle school holidays in an elegant fashion (I honestly don’t have time to fuss around with ‘programming’ in that, no, gymnastics won’t run for 2 weeks, but then will start up again at the same time and place).
My DH listened to my (constant) grumbling, and has decided to write us a beeping, annoying, holiday-timetable handling calendar app. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping he can make it work, because beeping timetables would really help us a lot.
And that’s about it, for the moment… though I think we’ll develop new and different strategies in time. Homeschooling is always an evolving process here in chaos-land.
So what organising strategies have helped your kids to concentrate? I’d love to find out!