It’s 10 minutes before the school bus arrives, and you notice your child is wearing a t-shirt in the middle of the winter.
“Go to your room and put on a sweater,” you instruct, and your child begrudgingly marches off. A few minutes of silence pass, and you go in to check on their progress. You see your child sitting on the floor playing with their toys, no sweater in sight.
“What are you doing?” you cry in frustration. “The bus is coming!” You slide a sweater over your child’s head with moments to spare, and they rush out the door.
This before-school scenario is a common one for most parents. Yet for parents of children with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is even more familiar — and that’s often because these children simply do not have the cognitive skills to complete the tasks being asked of them.
Children with ADHD or autism sometimes have difficulty holding a thought in their minds. This is because of a lack of working memory, or fluid reasoning, which can make it very challenging to follow what may appear to be very simple two-step directions.
“Many times individuals with [executive functioning] difficulties have trouble planning, organizing, and/or sequencing their thoughts as well as maintaining their attention. This can lead to problems with completing daily chores, such as getting dressed, grooming, or cooking,” according to the Center for Autism Research’s Autism Roadmap.
As parents of children with complex challenges, it’s critical that we take a neurodiverse or disability perspective when our children are having a performance problem. (Remember, as Dr. Ross Greene regularly says, “all children do well if they can.” Sometimes, it’s out of their control.)
So how can we help our children with working memory challenges get ready for school independently, while being supportive of their needs? Here are a few tips:
#1: Use Assistive Technology
We here at The Quaker School at Horsham love to use assistive technology to help our students thrive. Alexa, and the Ultimate Alexa app, can truly help children develop independence by automating the steps of their morning routine.
We recommend putting an Alexa device in each area of your home where your child will be completing tasks. For instance, in a two-story home, you may want one in your living area, at the top of your stairs, and in your child’s bedroom. This will ensure your child can always hear the prompts you set.
#2: Set a Routine
Within the Alexa app, you can set a series of reminders that will prompt your child to take each step in the before-school process. For example, “Go to your room and get dressed.” “It’s time to put on your shoes.” “Go downstairs and have breakfast.” “The bus will arrive in 5 minutes.”
If you’re not sure of the timing to set for these prompts, you can also use the drop-in feature to give those reminders live. (However, children are often more willing to take prompts from Alexa’s voice than a parent!)
#3: Keep the Routine Consistent
The final and most important part of this strategy: keep each step as consistent as possible. This means helping your child put their clothes, shoes, and other items in the same spot each night so they can easily find them in the morning. By taking away the additional cognitive demand of searching for items around the house, you will help your child take more independent steps each morning.
These simple tips will likely save both you and your child a lot of grief and stress in the morning, so give them a try! Have additional morning routine tips to share? Add them to the comments below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.