Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Big Bang, Organization and Executive Functioning

This post originally appeared in February 2010.

One of the rooms I hate to enter is collegeman’s office. Well technically it is the home office, but he usurped it during high school and never returned it. There is a desk in there for hubby, but collegeman generally takes over both the computer/desk and his father’s desk during the semester. Poor hubby walks around the house on the weekends looking for any place to sit quiet to do work. I usually find hubby ensconced in the basement, sitting amidst the video games and exercise equipment working on that which keeps us housed, fed and clothed. Hubby doesn’t really seem to mind. He’s happy that collegeman is being successful and as usual is ready and willing to reorganize his life for both boys.

You see collegeman is supposed to be organized. We had gone to great lengths his freshman year to arrange that room so everything had a place. We purchased plastic stackable draws, one for each class. He then labeled each draw. He has accordion folders for each class. The tabs on the folders read: class notes, handouts, homework, test/exams, and the syllabus goes in front. He has a space for his art supplies and a separate portfolio in which to keep his materials. He has a stapler, a box for highlighters, a pencil holder and pencil sharpener, all laid out on the desk and all labeled. (The label making company just loves us. I think we keep them in business) He has manila folders where he can keep his reading notes and can use them to organize his research for his papers. The room is an organizational dream. That is why everything that collegeman owns and needs for school is all over the floor, chairs, and desks and on top of the printer. He has turned that room into a swirling mass of discoordinate atoms reminiscent of the universe at the moment of its conception during the big bang.

I think no matter how you plan and no matter how you organize them they will find their own way. How he can find anything is beyond me, but find it he does. How he keeps straight his notes and ideas for his papers, along with keeping track of his weekly assignments is beyond me, but he does. How he can find anything in his overstuffed backpack, be it pencils, flash drive or drawing tools is beyond me, but he does. How he finds his PSP games hidden somewhere beneath the rubble that is the complex coordination of his extremely disheveled world is beyond me, but those you bet he knows where they are.

I know that we are supposed to help him with his executive functioning. We are supposed to give him the tools to help order his life and to make things easier for him. I know that we are supposed to teach him how to function in a way that cuts down on his anxiety and perseverations. But maybe that is just not how his mind works. Maybe his mind organizes things differently than ours and maybe his way works for him.

Now I do make him clean up his desk and put away his items. There is no way you could walk into the office if I did not. He has to clear a path through that student jungle so that hubby can sit at the computer and do his work at times too. Plus once in awhile I do have to run a vacuum over the floor and dust. Occasionally I still find empty used plates, and half eaten food stuffs under some errant paper or book. There are times I also just accept the fact that that office is a penicillin factory.

The truth of the matter is that Highschoolboy is no better. HSB has his draws and his folders and his labels. But everything hangs out on the desk top. You can’t even get near the desk to write because he piles all his most important items on the top. No not anything academic, heaven forbid, mostly strategy guides and Nintendo and Playstation games. We always find used plates, dirty cups and empty soda cans or water bottles. Yes, I could leave it until they clean it up. Yes, there can be consequences for not cleaning it up. Yes, we can write social stories and schedules and nag until we are “blue in the face.” But it won’t work. We’ve been there and done that. None of it worked. I am not sure that it is even worth the overall struggle right now. Not with HSB’s academic issues. I think I need to cut him some slack, and help him a little bit more until he gets past this slump.

Enabling him you say, perhaps and perhaps not. I just decided not to increase his anxiety and stress, but only time will tell if I made the right decision. I know that my sister-in-law laughs at my niece and her roommates’ filthy apartment at college. The girls don’t even know how to mop a floor. But great grades they get. I remember that my mother used to just close the doors to our rooms, rather than deal with the mess. I hear parents all the time complain about their teen’s lack of organization, attention to detail and overall lack of sense and order. So perhaps it’s not just the aspergers at work here with the boys. Oh I am sure that the autism makes their sense of executive organization or lack thereof more moribund than might be otherwise, but I am not sure by just how much.

So we keep the draws, the folders, the notebooks, the separate computers, the calendars, the white boards, the lists and the agendas. Maybe one day it will dawn on the boys just how effective all these strategies can be; that the strategies just make things easier not harder. One of collegeman’s old case managers in high school used to tell him to “work smart not hard.” He didn’t listen then and he doesn’t really listen now. I guess I can’t make it easier for him if he doesn’t want it that way, the same with HSB. I can give them the skills, but ultimately it is up to them whether they organize their lives or live in the middle of the big bang.

Until next time,