Organization Skills and Children with Psychiatric Illness

January 11, 2012 Angela McClanahan

As I continue writing Bob's 504 Plan (previously blogged here and here), I am amazed at how much of it seems to be common sense. Does a child really need "frequent restroom breaks" put into writing in order to use the restroom? (Being a substitute teacher, I've learned most kids won't go to the restroom every 20 minutes unless they're bored, need a break, or have a real physical need.)

Sadly, it seems much "common sense" in education (indeed, all matters concerning children) has become anything but . Case in point: the accommodation in Bob's plan that created such a buzz--his notebook.

o, trapper keeper, how i love thee.Mental illness can make it difficult, if not impossible, for a child (or adult) to learn basic organization skills. Some (like ADHD) affect one's ability to focus and categorize. Others are treated with medications that leave one foggy-headed and forgetful. We live in a world that demands attention to detail, and living with a chronic illness brings even more details to the party (medication schedules, therapy appointments, psychiatrist appointments).

School is no exception. Kindergarteners are already given responsibility for their lunch account numbers and library books, take-home folders and backpacks. Most children are quick to find a system that works for them, or are able to manage within the system used by the school.

Bob, however, is not one of them. Our greatest problem this year has been getting Bob to remember to bring his homework home. Adding insult to injury, there have been weeks he has simply forgotten to turn in the homework, finished and waiting in his homework folder. The school provides all students with planners, which they are to use daily to copy the day's schedule from the board, as well as any deadlines or notes. Bob's planner has almost always been blank (when he can find it). And notes from the school? I've gotten them as much as a month late, if I get them at all. not bob's binder, but similar

I had a hard time blaming Bob for all this. He'd forget his feet if he didn't walk to school, and the school's system for paper management, while effective for some, was horrible for Bob. Single paper folders for everything--plus the planner--made it nearly impossible for him to not forget something.

My solution? A simple 3-ring binder with (non-rip) tabbed pocket dividers--one each for homework, behavior charts, and notes home; his planner in back. The inside front has three pockets--one for homework to turn in; one for a dry-erase marker. In the binder cover, I slipped a checklist of things he needs to remember, morning and afternoon. He checks these with the marker (the vinyl wipes clean).

Since he's had the binder, his planner gets filled out, I get all the notes the school sends home (presumably), and he hasn't missed any homework. It may be a bit bulkier than paper folders, but the binder holds up much better in his backpack. And Bob is able to manage his paperwork on his own.

A simple solution...with an enormous impact.

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2012, January 11). Organization Skills and Children with Psychiatric Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

January, 12 2012 at 4:30 pm

I thought of you and this blog today when I did my post. I wondered if you would read it when you had time and leave your thoughts. It's about the mourning process involved with having a special needs child.
This is a really good post, by the way. It's hard not to criticize the school system, but I guess to be fair they can't have something that works for every single kid.

January, 12 2012 at 6:23 am

I really like this idea. We have a very similar problem with our son too. Thank you for sharing this!!

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