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Organizing Boundaries for a Child with Special Needs

I recently took on a new client where the layers of belongings in the child’s bedroom were almost knee deep. Extreme? You could say so. But that was the reality.

The rest of the home was NOT in the same condition.

The parents felt challenged because the child had processing needs consistent with those on the autism spectrum and they were not sure how to approach the issues they were having with keeping the room organized using traditional methods. They admitted to feeling like giving up.

After a consultation we decided that, because I have years of professional experience with children who present with characteristics on the autism spectrum, I would work with the child directly in his room. My plan at the start was to focus less on organizing objects, and more on organizing for safety. I knew that once the child got used to having floor space again, he would have an easier time keeping items off of it. I was afraid if we spent all of our time sorting the hundreds of items into various categories he would become overwhelmed.

We hung a trash bag on the door and started in one section looking for obvious garbage to remove. This was followed by sorting obvious items of interest such as books and legos. In the interest of clearing floor space, items that were more vague – random bits from various “projects” and varied interests were placed into boxes with the date on the outside for reference. Safety was the priority and it would have caused extreme anxiety for him to part with the items at that time.

Before I left, we took blue painter’s tape and marked the edges of the boundary we had cleared onto the carpet with lines of tape. His goal was to keep the space inside of the taped lines clear until I returned. And he did!

Did it mean that he just shoved stuff to the other side of the tape? Yes. Yes he did. But that was ok. Our initial goal was to rediscover the floor and how nice it is to walk on it safely.

When I returned, he told me that he really liked having room to play! In fact, he had cleared a little more space and moved the tape himself to keep even more floor area open!

My young client eagerly outlined his plans for how he would play in the space when we got more floor area cleared. He had grand plans that would require we address which items actually got to stay in the room and which were less important. This was exciting because it meant he would be more invested in the overall outcome.

In the meantime, his mother had gone through his clothes. The closet was overflowing when we started, so she whittled down the eye level contents to only the items he would be wearing in the current season. The goal was to make it easier for him to put away and retrieve them. She was motivated by our progress and was pleased that he could walk safely to the closet.

My initial goal for this project was to help manage expectations to achieve safety instead of “picture perfect” organization. It can be tempting to think that organizing a space is just a proper shelving unit away, but if the underlying issues are not addressed, the result will not be effective. This client was overwhelmed by safety vs. clutter vs. unique needs vs. making room for play…Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. When YOU get stuck, what motivates you to get organized?

 

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