Autism and Being Organized

Autism can mean a number of differences in how tasks are understood, processed and completed and may require support being organized. Occupational Therapists can help with many of these issues.

Organisational skills involve being able to filter through all the information in our brain and to select the pieces of information that require our attention in order to prepare or complete a task. As a spectrum condition, Autism doesn’t automatically mean poor attention or prevent someone being organized. In fact, lining up toys in ordered patterns is a common indicator for early years diagnosis. However, there are certain factors which can affect task management.  As a result of commonly experienced sensory processing difficulties, autistic people may not have the same ability to filter through the sensory input they are presented with as neurotypical people. Autistic people may not be able to filter beyond the sensory overload of noise, smells or feelings that they may be experiencing in order to pick out and process the important information coming into the brain. As the brain is so busy processing sensory information it can be very difficult to process and organize any other information. Some may compensate by developing their own organizational approach, but this may be hard to transfer. 

As humans we all forget to do things every now and then, that is okay! Regardless of autism, it’s unrealistic to expect perfect memory and for people to be perfectly organized all the time. However, if you find you are forgetting the same thing continuously then there are a number of ways you can try and help yourself remember.  One way to try and help yourself remember to do something is by attaching it to a part of your routine. For example if you tend to always forget to bring all your books into school for the day, maybe try incorporating this as a step in your morning routine. For example,  every morning after you’ve eaten your breakfast, take 5 minutes to check your school bag and your timetable and make sure you have everything you need for the day. You could even make a morning checklist so you have a visual representation of what you have to do in the mornings before you leave for school or set reminders on your phone.  If you enjoy structure and order, something that may be useful for you might be to colour code your daily schedule and match the colours on your timetable to a sticker on the books needed for the same subject.  

 This is an important term to describe how autism and other neurodivergent conditions affect someone being organizated. Put simply, executive functioning is how our brain organizes itself. Executive functioning describes a wide variety of concepts such as how we problem solve, abstract thinking and organizational skills. For example, our executive functioning is what will help us remember what variety of tasks need to be completed before a party or event. Our executive function helps us countdown the days in the lead up to the party and organize ourselves in advance of that date, like remembering to purchase a gift in advance of the party and remembering to confirm our attendance.  Part of organizing yourself is understanding how your own executive functioning performs and where you might need extra support. For example, sometimes visual schedules can be used to support your executive functioning and remembering what to do. Even simply writing a checklist in a diary or on a whiteboard in a central place in the house including “buy a gift” and “confirm your attendance” will help you be more organised in the lead up to a task or event. Although this is a very simple example, the same principle applies to more complex tasks such as the lead up to a holiday or school exams. Scaffold your own executive function by understanding where it is that you can do simple tasks to provide yourself with more support.   

A special interest can be used to help manage the sensory environment as well as managing everyday occupations that you may struggle with.  A special interest could potentially help you with your organisational skills as typically your special interest is an area that you are particularly “organised” in. Think about how it is that you store the information about your special interests and you may be able to utilise the same strategies or techniques for other areas too.   A special interest can also be a good starting point for increasing your social activities/groups. For example you may be interested in bird watching, so joining a bird watching club may be a good place to start if one of your goals it to make new friends or socialise more. 

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