We use executive function when we perform such activities as planning, organizing, strategizing and paying attention to and remembering details. People with executive function problems have difficulty with planning, organizing and managing time and space. Students with ASD may have greater difficulty in organizing and sequencing materials due to deficits in executive functioning (Mesibov, Shea, & Schopler, 2005). Thus, it may be difficult for students with organizational issues to know how long completing an assignment will take. Students with ASD may struggle with bringing the correct textbooks home to complete various homework assignments. Even personal organization, such as figuring out how to pick up books, folders, writing utensils, etc. and carrying them to the next classroom can be challenging. Trial and error and defining a system for the student with autism (preferably as early as possible) can help prepare that individual for success later in the educational, home and work environments. We do want to be aware that adding another notebook or other type of tool for a student to keep track of may simply compound the organizational problem.

No / Light Tech tools and Strategies

Students with ASD may be more effective with a defined, structured organizational system at their table/desk as well as at their locker or cubby. (See www.teeach.com for more information on structuring the environment and tasks.) Setting aside defined “work space” or even defining specific environments for specific tasks may be useful. Using schedules, “to-do” lists and assisting the student by directly instructing use and consistent modeling of these tools can be beneficial to the student. Older students might benefit from learning to eliminate clutter from their workspaces, both at school and wherever they do their homework outside of school.
  • In/out boxes
  • Color coding
  • File folder system
  • Highlighting specific information
  • Modified worksheets (more or less space between questions)
  • Daily, weekly or monthly calendars
  • Schedules (daily, activity, special)
  • Notebooks (e.g., “Trapper Keeper”)
  • Structured work stations
  • Structured tasks (i.e., graph paper for lining up math problems)
  • Checklists/ “To Do” Lists
  • Sticky Notes
  • Sensory Issues - lighting, noise level and types, visual clutter, etc.
  • Onion Mountain Technology has several great free resources on their website. This Organization Inventory.pdf is an example of what you can find.

Mid Tech Tools and Strategies

Organization is difficult for each of us and especially for students with autism. It requires an understanding of what one wants to do and a plan for implementation. These requirements are sufficiently complex, interrelated, and abstract and present formidable obstacles for students with autism. When faced with complex organizational demands, they are frequently immobilized and sometimes never even able to begin their required tasks. Many students experience increased independence when they are introduced to tools such as those listed below.
  • Concept-mapping software and templates
    • (see recommendations for software in Academics)
    • CAST (formerly the Center for Applied Special Technology) has a great research summary on the use of graphic organizers for students with disabilities as well as suggestions for their use and links to online resources
  • Simple speech generating devices (many of which were described in previous sections) can be used for organizing steps in a sequence. A Step-by-Step is one example.
  • Pagers/electronic reminderscan assist with independence.
    • Vibrating, light and sound timers are small, digital timers for students who need to keep track of time in different ways. They include notifications that vibrate, make a sound, or flash, and you can select any single or combination of alarms.
      • Invisible Clock from Attainment is a multi-function timer that beeps or silently vibrates to discreetly signal a set time. Invisible_Clock.JPGIdeal to cue repetitive tasks or multiple personal reminders. Set up to 12 different alarms per day. Adjustable vibration intensity and beep volume, number of beeps, illuminated display and auto button lock to prevent timer cancellations.
    • 3 in 1 Timeris an inexpensive and discrete pocket-sized vibrating alarm that also beeps and flashes light.
  • Multi-channel digital recorders could be used by students to organize information, assignments, etc.
    • VoiceOver,
    • Olympus and Sony make more complex devices. Check them out at Target

High Tech Tools and Strategies

The following list, though not exhaustive, are examples of tools that should be considered for some students with autism.
  • Use cell phone features such as to-do list and alarms.
    • iPhone and iPod Touch have several apps (both free and for cost) to help with organization
      • Remember the Milk and ToDo are examples of to-do lists
      • Alarms include
        • built in alarm/timer
        • iPrompts
        • VoCal
        • TimeTimer
        • ATimer
        • VisualTimer
        • Easy Up/Down Timers
        • Chronolite - Timer
        • Timr
        • Chef's Timer Pro
      • For homework assignments and projects
        • iHomework
        • Assignments
  • Personal Digital Assistant (PDAs) are portable and offer many features including electronic scheduling tools, memos, alarms, to-do lists, email, web accessibility, etc.
  • Visual Assistant provides powerful task prompting support by including digital pictures, custom recorded audio or video visualassistant.jpgmessages to provide step-by-step instructional support. This allows caregivers to set up instructional tasks by recording instructions and incorporating pictures of each step - preferably of the user performing the step in the real-world environment - to provide multi-modal cues for task completion. Visual Assistant is ideal for more complex or detailed tasks where the addition of a picture or video clip can increase accuracy. The use of the Decision Support system allows instructions that can branch based on the choices made by the end user, and any step can be time based to advance automatically or provide periodic reminders to complete the current step. Includes three additional playback modes to access step-by-step instructions; Play Only, Play/Done, and To Do List.
  • Electronic scheduling tools are electronic planners and are often more efficient than paper planners because one schedule is usually integrated in many views. With one click you can see a daily plan, as well as weekly and monthly.
    • Microsoft Outlook
    • Google Calendar
    • Calendars that Work is an online for fee calendar service. It may be used for free for the current month.
    • Ta-Da Listsis an online to-do list maker
    • Picture Planneris an icon-based scheduling software
    • The PocketModsystem uses one piece of paper as the basis for organization
  • For younger students
    • DLTK has online custom chore charts
    • Helpkidzlearn has a free program that was developed by the Down Syndrome Association of the UK. This free program is a visual timetable to help students sequence events. They have a few other free programs to download.
    • Communication4Allis another website that offers a frees visual timer but this one is for use on an interactive smart board. Again, check out the other programs that the owner of the site has available for IWBs.
  • For older students, consider direct deposit for paychecks and online banking for paying bills.
  • Timers time_timer_watch_plus.jpg
    • Time Timer Watch Plus(described in the Transition section) can be a useful tool for organization when students utilize the time-of-day alarm, and timer pre-alarm and alarm features.
    • The WatchMinder2 has two modes, the reminder mode and the training mode. Both modes can be operational at the same time. The reminder mode is useful for remembering specific tasks like taking medication and doing homework or chores. The training mode is useful for behavior change and self-monitoring. The watch has 30 daily alarms. Reminders can repeat daily or can be scheduled for future dates and times.
    • Casio DataBank Watchhas 150 alarms that can be set up to a year in advance
    • Sopris has Get 'Em on Task Software which is a computer signaling program to teach attending and self-management kills
    • Kirby Alarmsoftware allows you to set alarms and schedule tasks on your computer
    • Gepeto Softwareoffers a free timer for whiteboards
  • iGoogleis a Web 2.0 tool where students can add tools such as to-do lists, calendars, calculators, etc. to a homepage to assist with personal organization.
  • Writeboard is a Web 2.0 tool that students can use to write collaborative or independent reports. It tracks changes and saves work to a website.
  • LiveBindersis another Web 2.0 tool for collecting information gathered on the internet.