Monday, January 7, 2008

The Only Way to Eat an Elephant....

It seems completely nonsensical, on one hand my daughter needs everything structured. She needs to follow the same predictable pattern, day in, day out. She experiences a great deal of anxiety if plans are changed or if she isn’t given ample warning about a transition to a different activity. On the other hand, her room and her desk at school look like a tornado just ripped through. She has trouble finding the things she needs or wants. This causes her a great deal of frustration, and you would think that it would motivate her to keep things organized, but it doesn’t. (Or maybe it does, but she lacks the ability to act on that motivation). These two traits, the absolute need for order and the inability to create that order for oneself are both classic traits of ADD.

“So” you are asking “Am I destined to spend the rest of my life cleaning up after my ADD child?” The short answer is No, but (and you knew there was a but, right?) it’s not going to be easy. Here are my hints, and what I have found helps my daughter.

First, it helps if you can lower your expectations. Your ADD child is probably never going to be super organized or tidy. I can tell you this with certainty because I am an adult with ADD and I still struggle with these tasks. Your child is already dealing with self esteem issues because he/she can’t live up to the expectations of the school system. Don’t set him/her up to fail at home by not being able to live up to your cleanliness expectations too.

Second, get in and help. If it looks like a tornado just hit, there is no way your ADD child is going to be able to tackle it alone. There are two factors here, one it is overwhelming. If it’s too messy the ADD child doesn’t know where to start. Should he pick up the blocks first, or put the airplanes away? If there are too many choices, the ADD child will choose nothing. The other factor is what I call “Look something shiny”, in other words, ADD kids are easily distracted. Your child may pick up a couple airplanes, but by the third one he forgets he was cleaning and starts playing. Both of these things can be helped by having someone else in the room. You don’t have to do it for him, just help keep him encouraged and on track. Help your child get it clean, and then work towards maintaining that clean.

Third, make it easy. Break down the job into simple tasks. I have a chart on my daughter’s wall to help her remember the steps to cleaning her room. There are only 4 steps. First, she is supposed to pick up her dirty clothes. Second, pick up any trash. Third, put books on the bookshelf. Fourth, put toys in the toy box. Pretty much anything that is messing up her room falls into one of these four categories. By starting with the dirty clothes and the trash, we make the most visible improvement first. She can see her progress after just a few minutes. This makes it seem less overwhelming.

Fourth, make it routine. The last part is to make a habit out of picking up so the room doesn’t get back to tornado status. If it is picked up daily, there isn’t as much as if it is neglected for a week. My daughter has another chart on her wall with routines for the morning and before bed. She has 5 minutes in the evening to pick up her room before bed. This is plenty of time for her to pick up a day’s worth of clothes, trash, books, and toys.

It doesn’t always go according to plan. There are times when her room still looks like a tornado hit. About once every three months I have to go back in and help her get it all organized again, but little by little she is learning that she can clean her own room. It’s just like eating an elephant, one bite at a time.