Organizational Unwillingness or Executive Dysfunction?

by Carol Chandler-Wood

Do any of these characteristics describe a student in your family; lazy, forgetful, un-motivated, often late, unorganized, distracted, messy, and/or trouble communicating logically?  If so, the student is exhibiting a lack of employing organizational strategies.  Some students know how to and are capable of organizing themselves and their school materials and matters, but choose not to.  However, other students are not intentionally being unorganized, rather they have been diagnosed with a disorder called “Executive Dysfunction” and require appropriate organizational support.  Executive Dysfunction is a neurobiological problem believed to originate in the frontal lobe of the brain and affects a person’s planning, flexibility, organization, and self-monitoring (LDOnline, 2007).  There are ways to assist the student with executive dysfunction to overcome their lack of organization and overcome the challenges presented.  Listed below are organizational strategies as listed on the website  

Managing time

  • Use time management techniques such as checklists, prioritized “To Do” lists.
  • Estimate how long a task will take and then check on the accuracy of your estimate.
  • Plan for more time to do a project than you think needed.
  • Break long assignments into several ones, with time frames for completing each.
  • Establish intermediate deadlines for bigger projects.
  • Use a word processor and time management software.
  • Write the due date on the top of each assignment in a brightly colored marker.

Managing space

  • Have separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities.
  • Schedule a weekly time to clean out your desk and book bag 

Managing materials

  • Have lots of pencils and pens in the classroom and at home.
  • For young students, have one notebook where all assignments are recorded. Ask the teacher to check the assignments at the end of each day to insure that the assignments are recorded properly and that the necessary materials to complete the assignments are packed in the book bag. Also ask to make sure the due date for each assignment is written at the top of each page.
  • For older students, use a three-ring binder with organized sections enclosed by a zipper. Make headings such as “Assignments Due Date,” “To Do Today,” “Ongoing Work.”  Use dividers in the notebook that are color-coded; e.g., red for assignments that must be done right away, yellow for those due at the end of the week, etc.
  • Color code materials by covering the textbook for one course in the same color as the notebook for that same course. Use the same color coding to prioritize assignments for that same course.
  • Establish a daily routine for school organization and include a written version of it in the notebook, e.g., turn in homework at the beginning of classes, get out paper/text/pen and check blackboard for assignment, prepare to leave class three minutes before it ends—pack books, papers, etc., turn in assignment book for checking and initialing at the end of each day, etc. Use this same approach at home, e.g., do homework at a certain time, have parent initial homework, clean out book bag, check for necessary supplies for school, re-pack book bag to take to school the next day.
  • Obtain two copies of each school textbook; one to be left at school and the other to be left at home.

Be sure to praise the student’s progress rather than focusing on areas of continued disorganization. In addition, it is important that the student’s family be included so that they can help him or her continue the strategies at home.