Why can’t your unique learner get organized?

A hundred years ago, life moved at a slower pace. There were fewer demands on our time and less “stuff” to try to keep track of. Our modern world is much different. Even young children have many activities and responsibilities they must do. The youngest students have a lot of stuff to keep track of in a day; lunch box, homework folder, jacket. For adolescents and adults, the amount of stuff and number of responsibilities can be overwhelming.

Yet we still must find a way to manage these demands. As parents and teachers, we know how much harder this will get with time for our children. When our unique learners don’t seem to be getting it in the first place, let alone improving, it can be very frustrating.

“Try Harder” won’t help your unique learner get organized.

Many unique learners struggle with a lack of organization. Their rooms, desks, and backpacks are typically a disaster. When they are frantically searching for an item, the mess only increases.

These unique learners are often out of step with the world around them. In addition to the physical disorder, they have a disorganized connection with time. When they do remember something, it is often late, or they take longer to finish.

The combination is enough to make parents and teachers crazy. This is one of the most common areas where parents beg their children to try harder. Teachers take away recess and parents restrict fun activities at home.

The adult is applying pressure to try to force the child to change their ways because they are convinced that if the child would only “try harder”, make an effort, or care more, the child could change.

And here lies the problem. The unique learner can’t change by trying harder, caring more or making a better effort. Perhaps if the disorganization were a result of a bad attitude or just plain laziness, this could work. But it’s not.

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Disorganization and poor time management in unique learners is nearly always related to difficulty functioning within space and/or challenges with rhythm. Their difficulties result from a sensory system that is unreliable in the quality of the information it passes to the brain and the body.

Sensory System 101

The sensory systems at fault are the vestibular sensory system and the proprioceptive sensory system. (You can learn more about these systems HERE.) In very simple terms, the vestibular system is in charge of balance and the proprioceptive system is in charge of movement.

The vestibular system is located in your inner ear. Spinning in circles, traveling in a moving vehicle, and ear infections can temporarily cause problems with the vestibular system. If you have ever been car sick or dizzy, you know how uncomfortable you feel. You might get a headache and feel sick to your stomach, sometimes even to the point of vomiting.

The proprioceptive system is located in the tiny connection points between joints, muscles, tendons, and nerves. These connection points send constant feedback to your brain. The brain uses the feedback to make corrections to your movements.

While both of these systems work alone, they function within the rest of the sensory system. The eyes tell the brain that there is a tree in your path. Your brain tells your proprioceptive system to move around it. While riding a bike, your vestibular system tells your brain that balance has shifted and you are starting to tip over. The brain tells the proprioceptive system to lean the opposite way, and balance is restored.

When these systems don’t “talk” to the brain and each other properly, they can cause problems. This is often the case for unique learners and it is the source of their trouble with organization and time management.

You can push as hard as you want. It won’t help, and will probably just make the problem worse. As the child gets more upset and stressed from your pressure, an already glitchy sensory system has even more problems.

[bctt tweet=”You can push as hard as you want. It won’t help, and will probably just make the problem worse. As the child gets more upset and stressed from your pressure, an already glitchy sensory system has even more problems.” username=””]

What is a parent or teacher to do?

The reality is that unique learners really do need to learn how to better organize themselves and their lives. There is a way, but first you will have to give up your “try harder” strategies.

Next, accept that this is an area of your child’s life that really is difficult for them. Change can occur, but it will take time and a new approach.

By understanding what is really happening in their body, you can develop a program that gradually expands skill and competency. The result will allow performance to improve in school, work and life tasks.

Remember, the source of their organization problems is the vestibular and proprioceptive system. That means that by improving how well these two sensory systems function, organization can also improve.

See the Strategies to Try section for exercises and activities that improve a person’s understanding of time.

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Suzanne Cresswell Administrator
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