Executive Functioning Skills Don’t Grow on Trees

Yesterday, the band director’s text alert system let me know that the permission slip for the upcoming band competition was coming home today, as well as something about a spring trip to Washington DC (…yikes…). When The Boy came home, I searched his backpack. Nothing. I replied to the band director’s text – “Could you email it to me?” he said he could.

Last week, the science teacher, from the same text alert system, let me know that progress reports were coming home. Looked in the backpack. Nothing.

And you know that there is still math work floating around in that thing, but I have been told that it is not homework, and that it will be worked on in school, so I don’t touch it.

And there goes last week’s reading log floating by…

_Oh, look, Honey, there's an executive functioning skill tree! Let's pick up some organization, working memory, and focus on the way home!This type of lack of organization has to do with executive functioning skills, often a deficit for kiddos on the spectrum, and many with ADHD. Without assistance and support, and regular lessons and routines to help them get their stuff together, they continue to not bring things home-bring the wrong things home-not turn stuff in.

Considering that The Boy is not verbal about school either, this becomes a real issue. Like when I find out about a band concert two nights before (do his pants even fit??). So, I kinda need to know about any kind of trip that is leaving the state.

Before his program was annihilated, he had an opportunity at the beginning and end of the day to check in with his ASD teacher to make sure he had what he needed, and turn in anything. It is evident that that support has not been replaced.

And I kinda need the staff to do something about this. Yesterday.

Planners Who Need Planners

I succumbed.

A co-worker introduced me to the Erin Condren Life Planner in July.  Suddenly I remembered my undergrad days when a planner was my lifeblood.  I couldn’t function without it, and if someone had ever taken it or I had misplaced it, my world would come to a screeching halt.  As I read reviews and watched the plethora of YouTube posts (it seemed everyone who had ever purchased one had also either done a blog post or a video with a 20-minute “walkthrough”), I suffered from sticker shock, but also a growing need to have one.  How had I gone so long without a planner? I asked myself over and over again.  I had never quite gotten the hang of the digital organization I so wanted to make work: Evernote, SpringPad, even Notes and Reminders on the iPhone just hadn’t quite cut it.  And I thought about the nights where I can’t sleep because my mind is racing with to-dos and ideas, notes and projects, blog posts and emails I need to write.  When those nights pop up, the only, ONLY way to calm my fevered brain is to get up with a pen and a pad of paper and just write everything down.  Good old pen to paper.

I could get my money managed more effectively, and keep track of expenses, I thought.

I could organize my blogging calendar, I thought.

I could have all of The Boy’s school and Autism Society events in one place, I thought.

I could even put events for work in there so I always know what’s going on and when, I thought.

I could include a daily to-do list, I thought.

I could keep our evenings on track between homework and other household chores, I thought.

In the end, I convinced myself to bite the bullet, and give it a shot.  In the whole scheme of things, if it didn’t work, the cost was not that prohibitive.  I ordered my planner and waited about 4 weeks for it to arrive.

When it came, I wasn’t sure what to do with it, and again, watched videos and read blog posts on the most effective way to use the planner.  Come to find out, most people’s posts were about how pretty they could make the thing with washi tape and stickers, without any real substance on how to use it.  So I turned to the notes section and made a list of all the things I wanted to keep track of, and began to form my own ideas of just how I would keep track of all of the stuff I mentioned above.

It’s been about two weeks, and it is being used, multiple times a day.  Not only do I plan, but I record expenses (usually first on a sticky note, and if I have time later, with the “proper” label that I have devised), and other things that have happened.

ECLP

But the biggest A-Ha of all is that by having everything recorded, I don’t remind myself six times a day about that one thing I want to remember.  I have a go-to spot for important papers.  I know where stuff is.  And all of these things allow me to 1) relax more, and 2) be more creative.  I have time to think about (and jot down) ideas for blog posts, and even outline my dreams and plans for my own nonprofit which I hope to start someday.

So I guess this is my own obligatory Erin Condren Life Planner blog post.  And I’m not trying to sell you on anything – it’s not for everyone.  But I am glad that I have gone back to paper, because it’s actually allowing my mind to unburden itself of all the small stuff so I have more time to think about the big stuff.

Practical Tips for Email Documentation: IEPs and Dealing with the School

Because I am new-but-not-really-new to having to fight for my son’s rights, I have an interesting learning curve.  I am very aware of the law, but not as well versed in the day-to-day practices that are highly recommended for those of us battling the schools.  It’s not dissimilar to having a less-than-amicable divorce, especially because documentation is so important.

I have always been a proponent of email, in large part because it is an easy way to establish a paper trail.  As such, I have been emailing The Boy’s teachers and administrators since the beginning of the school year with my concerns and requests.  As we have gone further into the school year, and I have realized that things are not running as smoothly as I had hoped, I am glad I have the emails as documentation, but have found that just leaving them in my inbox is not the best organizational practice, and it would be cumbersome to try to sort, save, and/or print just the relevant correspondence.

Through trial and error, I have found a great way to organize these emails with the idea of using them for documentation in the IEP process, and possible mediation process if necessary later on.  I hope we don’t have to go that far, but it is much better to be prepared and do the legwork now than to have to go back through several month’s worth of emails.

circlesFirst of all, I highly recommend using a gmail account for your correspondence with the schools, because it has capabilities that other email accounts don’t have.  I have put all of the teachers and administrators in a “circle” within my gmail account, labeled “The Boy’s School”.  I can click on that “circle” and view all of the emails from those people without the distractions of other, unrelated emails in the way.

Secondly, I have an existing Evernote account.  You can download a free desktop version, which is all I’ve ever used, and although I don’t use it often, it has some very neat capabilities.  If you aren’t familiar, you can check it out here.  It also has an app for smartphones, which can sync with your desktop app.  Evernote is like a huge notebook where you can store and organize stuff – stuff as small as an idea, and stuff as large as a document.  One of the great things about Evernote, that we will use here, is that you can create notes by emailing whatever you’d like to your Evernote account – it sets up a specific-to-you email for this purpose.

After you have a gmail account and an Evernote account, you can then select all of the school email addresses in your gmail account and apply a filter, forwarding copies of all of the emails from people in your school circle to your Evernote account (using that Evernote-specific email), thereby creating “notes” out of all correspondence with all of your child’s teachers and administrators. To do this, select all of the messages within a “circle”, click on the “more” button, and select “filter messages like these”.  Follow the directions from there, plugging in your specific-to-you Evernote email address.  It is important to note that the filter will only forward the emails that are received after the filter has been applied – you will have to forward each email that has already been received, yourself.

Evernote

You can also save texts to Evernote by either using an app that will do this for you (there are several), or by taking screenshots of the texts on your phone (do this on an iPhone by pressing the home and power button simultaneously), and emailing them to your Evernote-specific email.  If you have the smartphone Evernote app, it’s even simpler: After you have taken screenshots of the texts, you can open your Evernote app, press the “+” button to add a note, press on the camera icon, select “choose existing” which will take you to your camera roll, and you can select the screenshot you just took of the text from your camera roll.

You can even save voicemails to Evernote (or recordings of meetings!), if you have recording capabilities on your phone/computer, and can save them as an mp3 file.

Finally, you can merge notes (say all of the emails from his social studies teacher, so you can prove a pattern of disregard for the modifications she needs to be making for your son… for example…), and/or you can create a pdf of the selected note(s) by choosing “print” and instead, saving as a pdf (click on the radio button on the lower left hand corner in the print pop-up screen).

It helps to go into all of your notes, and change the date to the actual date of the correspondence, rather than the date you entered it into Evernote – you can do this by clicking on the “i” icon.  You may also want to tag your newly entered notes with the last name of those involved.  This is not necessary with emails, as Evernote will search the emails for the relevant names, but it is another layer of organization.

These tips can also be used by teachers to keep track of correspondence with specific parents, or by anyone who needs to organize emails, texts, and the like from specific people!

Need to Reboot!

Did you ever have a day that felt like a complete waste?  I’m beginning to get overwhelmed, and as a result, I’m shutting down: not working out, not getting much done.  Too much thinking, and not enough doing.  I’m feeling fatigued and headache-y for no reason, and it’s taking major effort to get anything on my to-do list to-done.

Get things down to get things doneDesperate times call for desperate measures.  When I am thinking too much, I need to do a brain dump on a pad of paper, and write down every little thing that keeps popping up, even to the point of keeping it on my nightstand and jotting things down as they come to me in the middle of the night.  This is part of the Getting Things Done philosophy that I use, albeit on an irregular basis.  Once everything gets “dumped”, it needs to be organized into things that I can do something about, and things I can’t.  If I can’t do anything about it, at least it’s on paper and not circling my brain anymore.  If I can do something about it, it joins my to-do list.  For smaller tasks like housework, I can use the Pomodoro technique to get myself in gear, and the calendar works for larger to-do items – deadlines have always worked for me.

A day off (for organizational purposes, of course) and a massage (purely for the headache-y, fatigue-y feeling) may also be in order.

I don’t have time to be in a funk!

What’s Working

I talk about a lot of stuff that I’m going to do, but I don’t always get back to you and let you know what’s working, so…

  • The cold oatmeal in a jar?  That’s been working!  Like clockwork.  Except just in the last week or so, I’ve been getting a little sick of it, so I’m going to switch up some flavors.
  • The 6-Shelf Sweater Sorter!  The Boy actually filled it himself this past weekend and was proud of himself for doing so.  And the best part is that he is wearing every pair of his pants now, not the same pair every day.  Success!  It also keeps me on track with making sure the laundry gets done so it can be filled.
  • It’s early days yet, but the Magnetic Menu Planner is working SO well!  It helps with making the grocery list, and reminding me what’s planned (and what needs to be defrosted, etc.).  I have been cooking like a fiend, and loving it.  I’m even freezing leftovers and reducing waste.

Another success I’ve had recently is with chores.  I have written about allowance, and not basing it on chores before, but saw this post about how to make a visual chart for kids, and allowing them to have input.  I implemented only the chart of what gets done each day, and The Boy is actually doing chores (like wiping the kitchen counter, and picking up his things)!  The best part?  We haven’t even talked about allowance – he’s doing it because I need him to help out (and I need to teach him basic living skills).  You can’t get any better than that.

Build upon success

Take a minute and think about what’s working for you lately.  Let us know how it’s going in the comments below.

Snow Day – The Boy = Toy Purge!

Today was a snow day for me, and not for The Boy. (Picture me grinning and laughing maniacally, and rubbing my hands together with glee.)  Time to tackle The Boy’s room.

The Boy is a collector, and as I’ve said before, like lots of kids with autism, just won’t give anything up.  Not for the poor kids with no toys, not for money, not for anything!  “Mine, mine, all mine!” he must be chanting in his brain.  But like the old lesson with the petri dish from school, if everything continues to grow, you run out of space.

Enter Christmas and a December birthday.  And two sets of parents (and grandparents).  Toy explosion.  And then he dumped those damned fusion beads everywhere.. TWICE!!  I was ready to tear my hair out, and his worst fear (and my biggest fantasy) was that I would come in and vacuum them all up.  (Do not, whatever you do, allow those beastly little things in your house.  They will find their way to every nook and cranny and will defy you when you attempt to pick them up.  They also hurt when you step on them in bare feet.  They are the bane of my existence.)

I got the call this morning, and The Boy did not, so I packed him off to school, and came back to hop into bed and dream about tackling his room.  That lasted less than an hour – I was so excited to get crackin’!

My strategy is to hide out-of-favor toys for a period in the basement.  This ensures that the one thing I think he will never ever remember that has now gone underground can be found again when he says, “Hey!  Where did that green squishy worm thing go?”  If nothing gets asked for after a certain period, it all gets donated or freecycled.  There is a closet-full now.  Some are destined for the center program for severe special needs in our district.  Others will be put in a box randomly for “porch pick-up” by families who are willing to take a “grab bag”.  Some of these things are brand new, still in the wrappers, too, but I don’t care.

Finally, the boy is getting old enough where he likes videos and clothes and money as gifts, and not the toys.  It’s just the will to hang on that prevents us from getting to where we need to be.  Most of the time, I am honest and upfront with The Boy because I want to model behavior I’d like to see in him.  But when you are dealing with a hoarder/toy addict, sometimes you have to take drastic measures.

I left some for him to sort through and put away later tonight.

But you better believe I hoisted that vacuum in there with a certain amount of satisfaction, and sucked a bunch of those babies up – looked like the old fisher price corn popper.  It’s almost as fun as putting piles of paper through a shredder.

fp corn popper

Mom!! Where is my _____??

The Boy is a slob.  You would think for a kid that couldn’t resist lining up Pringles and m&ms as a toddler, his room would have some semblance of order, but not so much.  This misplacing of things has been the reason for many, many a morning meltdown.  I have found that even when I try to predict every possible little thing he may need for school, something else will come up in the last two minutes before we need to be out the door (in order to get to school first, lest that spark a meltdown).  Whew.

Bins and organizers are not the answer.  I have a sneaking suspicion that The Container Store and IKEA do a great deal of their yearly business in January, when people decide that the only reason they are disorganized is because they don’t have enough BINS!

So, little miss Has-All-The-Answers, what is the answer??

Training.  Here’s how I know.  The Boy went to daycare as a wee one at a lady’s house, and loved her.  She taught him to put his shoes just inside the door, and pop his socks right inside, so they would be there when he wanted to put them back on to go outside.  He was there from the age of about 6 months to 3 years, and you know what?  To this day, he still does this with his shoes.  Ergo, finding a particular space for all of his things, and then using those spaces with lots and lots of repetition is the plan.

lined-up shoes

Of course, the purging of unnecessary and duplicate items comes first.  But then, it’s time for mise-en-place and repetition.  The other part of the game plan?  Buying multiples of the things he wears and uses most.  This means less laundry and hunting for me.

Any other tips for getting your child to be somewhat organized?  Share them in the comments.

Sunday Shout-Out: Creativity Explored

The Man and I took an incredible trip to San Francisco in 2010.  We spent a week, and on our ramble to the Mission District, we stopped in to take a peek at the Creativity Explored studio and gallery.  For the life of me, I cannot remember how I had heard about this place, but it was, for me, the highlight of the trip.

Creativity Explored is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides space, materials, as well as access to mentor artists for adults with developmental disabilities who enjoy expression through making art.  The organization also organizes exhibits and maintains an online shop through which the artists can sell their work, providing income, and an opportunity for self advocacy.

creativity explored

creativity explored (Photo credit: veritatem)

At first, The Man and I looked around the gallery, finding several pieces we wanted to take home.  The person behind the desk asked if we wanted to go in the studio.  We looked at each other and said, “Yes!  Is it open to the public?” He assured us it was, and we went through the entryway into the studio.  There were about 15 adults working on various projects, some with mentor artists at their side, some without.  We wandered through the workspace trying to peek at the works in progress without being too intrusive.  Some of the artists were talking or singing to themselves.  Some were oblivious to our presence, others were wary, and still others waved and welcomed us.  One artist in particular, Peter, greeted us warmly and enthusiastically, giving us a tour of the studio, and lead us to the kiln, telling us all about the firing process, and showing us his just-fired work.  He was very proud, and very happy to have an audience.

We left Creativity Explored, shortly after, realizing we had spent over an hour there.  We were both pretty quiet for awhile, and then remarked to each other what an amazing experience that had been.  And the art!  The art gave me such a new perspective, because these artists were clearly communicating their lives and experiences through this medium, which gave them so much more power to “speak” for themselves.

If you are ever in San Francisco, you must stop in.  It was life changing for me, leading me to earn a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management last year — I was so inspired by this organization doing so much good for adults with developmental disabilities  It has become a new dream for me to be involved with an organization like this.

If you aren’t going to San Francisco anytime soon, please visit the website, buy something, make a donation.  They are doing amazing work, and the artists themselves will blow you away.  (You can look up Peter Cordova, too, and check out his work!)