What’s in Your Wallet?

There is a commercial advertising a credit card company that ends with the question, “What’s in your wallet?” While this is an interesting question, at my house I am more likely to hear, “Where is my wallet?”

Life with the distractible and disorganized can be discombobulating. I live with three family members who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and due to challenges with inattention and forgetfulness often items get lost or misplaced. Sometimes my kids will ask me if I’ve seen something that’s gone missing. Since I like things to be organized and put away in a logical place, there are times when I can locate the missing object because I put it away instead of leaving it out where it was dropped.

I have systems for cleaning and organizing. The problem is with implementation and cooperation from the rest of my family. I have a strong need for things to be put away where they belong so I can find them when I go looking for them. Just last night I pulled out all the ingredients to make a delicious smoothie, but when I went to get my smoothie maker only part of it was in the cupboard where I keep it. I had a blender base with the pitcher and a lid, but the ball on a stick part used to help move the mixture around in the pitcher was missing. I looked in all the places I could think of putting it, but only one place really made sense to me and that was to store all the smoothie maker parts in the same location. My husband came into the kitchen and joined me in the search for the missing part.

After looking in the same places I had looked, and striking out just as I had, my husband began looking in places that made no sense to me but just might contain the lost tool so they warranted a look. Even then we could not locate our smoothie tool, so we…looked in all the same places again! I’m not sure why we do this, as if the missing item that wasn’t there previously will somehow show up if we look again in the exact same place. This strategy was also unsuccessful, so we moved on to asking our children if they knew where the missing piece was hiding.

This is not generally a good strategy, either, because we are talking about distractible people who misplace things all the time and absentmindedly leave things in odd places. But it was worth a shot, since we had nothing else to go on at that point. Both children stated where they might have placed it, but neither actually remembered doing so and the item wasn’t where they suggested. This time, my husband decided to try substituting a silicon spatula in place of the missing tool, with the result that we had delicious smoothies with bits of a chopped spatula mixed in. I think I swallowed a piece.

Those types of lost items are frustrating and inconvenient, but not nearly as alarming as missing driver’s licenses, phones, or my personal nemesis the missing wallet. Not my wallet. Remember, I have a “wallet place” where my wallet lives and is predictably located when I need it. My daughter and husband have misplaced their wallets multiple times, though, and it sends me into a far greater panic than they experience. While my mind is racing with all the possibilities and security risks, they are unsystematically roaming the house looking in odd places for their wallets. Sometimes they leave the house for a minute and I realize they are checking the car to see if it’s there. Or maybe on the sidewalk, or in the grass, or…well, you get the idea.

My daughter will, at times like these, casually ask me if I’ve seen her wallet. She acts like it’s not really a big deal because it’s bound to turn up sooner or later, and she really believes that! Hunting for her wallet is like a treasure hunt and is only mildly irritating if she doesn’t find the wallet. I, on the hand, begin mentally listing all the items that will need to be replaced or cancelled.

My husband is more subtle about searching for his missing wallet or other items, and rarely asks me to help him look anymore. The reason he doesn’t bother seeking my assistance is because I’m not much help at finding whatever he has lost. I look in logical (to me) places where I would leave my wallet, for instance, and since I have a “wallet spot” I don’t have too many places to look.

Even when my husband doesn’t come out and say that he’s misplaced something of importance, I can recognize the signs. He enters a room scanning it like a secret service agent taking everything in at a glance. Then he moves around the room, picking up papers and small portable items while surreptitiously looking under and around them. He never panics, and never tells himself not to bother looking in strange places because he knows the missing item could be anywhere. While I fret about possible identity theft, my husband remains unruffled as he continues his quest for the missing wallet.

I no longer reach the panic stage as quickly as I used to, because more often than not my husband and daughter do find their missing wallets. Rather than berate themselves for having lost them, they congratulate themselves on another successful recovery. I would like to avoid the stress of “Where is my wallet?” but I do admire the resiliency of my family members who just don’t sweat it when these events happen. They take it in stride as casually as a driver stopping for a red light, doing what the situation calls for and moving on.

Speaking of moving on, I just heard my husband in the next room quietly asking himself, “Now where did I put my keys?”

I am quite confident that he will find his keys, no matter how strange a hiding spot they are in, because his experience and resiliency will win out. Keys, your time on the loose is limited. Give yourselves up! You will be found.

Homeschool Flashback #5 Executive Functions

Ahhh, executive functions. We love them, and when they are lacking we long for them. Children with AD/HD struggle to develop vital executive functions such as organization and planning. Students with learning disabilities and struggling learners (officially identified or not) often have some degree of executive dysfunction.

Any experienced teacher can look at a student’s notebook and tell if that student is able to organize and access the information and materials they will need. Intelligence plays a part in academic success, sure, but the organized student typically comes out on top. Executive functions help students to show what they know. If they have completed an assignment but can’t locate it the teacher has no way to assess their performance. A very bright student who forgets about an assignment or fails to complete the work even though he has the capacity to do so will be out-performed by an average student with the executive functioning skills to complete tasks accurately and on time.

Children with learning challenges work harder and longer to get results and deficits in executive functioning impact all areas of life, not just the academic realm. Consider, for example, the child who forgets he made plans with one friend and is off with another when the first friend comes calling. Or the child who struggles with time management and is chronically disorganized causing her to be late for practice again because she can’t find her mouthguard.

Some children just naturally seem to develop executive functions as they mature. Others need much more direct instruction than our modeling alone provides. In the picture above, you can see the rudiments of Josh’s attempt to develop some executive function skills. He has written out the date and the tasks he needs to accomplish each day. He put a check mark next to completed work. Josh’s system is far from sophisticated, but it reflects his burgeoning attempts to incorporate some organization into his day.

Is Josh’s method acceptable? It wouldn’t be what I would choose, but Josh is a unique individual. I had shown Josh various organizers and examples that I would use but he had to find something that worked for him. The picture shows what he came up with, and although there are many things I would do differently the idea was for Josh to find a system that worked for him.

It’s too bad executive function skills can’t just be absorbed by spending time with people who excel with them. The good news is that executive skills can be taught. It may take awhile, but they are so important that it’s worth the investment of time to help your children develop in these areas. Experts say that executive function skills continue to develop into the twenties, but don’t wait to start working on them until your child is already floundering. Help your young child to develop strategies to keep track of his possessions. Assist your older children in using calendars and organizational aids. Help your child write a list of what needs to get done for the day. When executive skills don’t come naturally, even the most primitive progress is just that – progress. 

The Biggest Loser – of Important Items

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that I prefer things neat and orderly. My family, on the other hand, casually consider themselves slobs and refer to themselves as “Slobonians”. Clutter doesn’t bother them, so it is very hard to motivate them to clean up and put things away where they belong. My youngest daughter has AD/HD and the impulsivity and inattention result in clutter, misplaced items, and zippers left unzipped on backpacks. I have found some of her things in the oddest places, and she has no recollection of how they got there. This week, while at my part-time job as a speech therapist, I got a text message on my phone from Beckie. She is taking a couple of classes at a community college and was texting me to accuse our dog of taking her calculator out of her backpack because it was missing and she knew it was in her backpack the day before. While it’s true that our recently rescued dog has yet to learn what he is allowed to chew on, I thought it more likely that she left her backpack unattended and someone stole the calculator from her backpack. In any case, it was distressing since it was an expensive calculator and…it was borrowed. I was not happy with having the expense of replacing the borrowed calculator and then having to buy Beckie another one since she will have more math classes to take in the future. A few hours later, Beckie sent me another text to let me know she had found the calculator. One of the other students in her math class had found it on the sidewalk the day before and recognized it as being Beckie’s calculator and returned it to her. Yea! Beckie admitted that she had left the zipper open on the pocket she used for her calculator, so it could have fallen out without her knowing it. Whew! What a relief. That is until my husband Scott got a call from Beckie’s cell phone in the afternoon, and it wasn’t Beckie calling him. Beckie’s cell phone had been found in the grass near the local elementary school and the person was calling to say she’d leave it at the front desk in the school office. Scott managed to reach Beckie at home, and she insisted that it was impossible for her cell phone to be found by a stranger when she was positive it was at her friend’s house. (Why would she leave it at her friend’s house instead of in her hand where I usually see it? Who knows?) Beckie reluctantly agreed to walk to the school and retrieve her phone, though she was still adamant it had to be some kind of mistake. Except that it was there, to her amazement, and she learned that it had first been found a couple blocks away from the school at a place she had not walked past that day. We are all mystified. I pointed out to Beckie that she had lost an expensive calculator and a cell phone in the same day, thereby making her “The Biggest Loser” in our family so far this week. Since this time both items were returned to her, I think she was secretly amused by the title. She was definitely angry when the calculator was missing, and if she had even known her phone was missing she would have been upset. Perhaps this will help her remember to zip up pockets and so on. Time will tell.

Writing It Down Would Work Better

Today’s blog is a message of hope for all of you with distractible, inattentive, and forgetful children. It may also, in a way, be making a case for attempted brain washing used totally in the sense of “for the greater good.” I’ll let you decide. Yesterday my daughter Beckie and I were talking about things that needed to be done. Beckie has ongoing issues with managing her schedule and her possessions. She usually gets places on time, but often leaves out food that needs refrigerated and leaves other unfinished tasks that are sacrificed in order for her to get where she needs to be at the right time. She always thinks that she’ll have enough time, or can get “one more thing” done before she has to go. Like many distractible individuals, she loses track of time and rushes out the door at the last minute leaving a trail of partially completed chores in her wake. Yesterday, I was reminding her of something she needed to do, and she was reminding me that she never remembers it at the right time when she could actually do it. I had just been working with her on history, having her visualize events so that she could recall them later. So I said, “Put it in your brain,” meaning that she should visualize herself doing the job. Beckie’s immediate response was, “Writing it down would work better.” Whoa! Isn’t that exactly what I’d been telling her for years? Just for kicks, I asked her to repeat what she’d said. She repeated her statement about writing it down, which thrilled me and gave me hope. I’ve probably told her that thousands of times over the years, but this is honestly the first time I’ve heard it come back from her own lips. Maybe, just maybe, all the things we say to our kids sink in. It’s possible that with enough repetition, our oft-repeated bits of wisdom gradually ease their way into our children’s long-term memory where it serves them when we are not physically there to prompt and remind. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that this will probably not become a habit for some time. I’ve found that my non-AD/HD child can learn a new rule or skill in about a third of the time it takes my AD/HD children. The AD/HD kids need a lot more repetition and practice, along with more direct supervision and support along the way. But we can’t let that minimize the successes we do see, even if they are longer in coming. As I’ve mentioned, I have been nagging (I mean “coaching”) Beckie to write things down on the calendar when she has something planned. When she mentions an event to me, I prompt her to write it on the calendar so she won’t forget and we can all see what is planned on any given day. I also have a dry-erase board by the phone, and about 40% of the time she remembers to write down when someone has called for me. This may not seem impressive, but we are up from 0% of the time so it is an improvement. She also writes things down on the calendar, but again we are not up to 100%. Not yet. But we are making progress, and sometimes the natural consequences of not writing things down increases the incentive to remember to do so in the future. For example, last weekend Beckie had remembered to write down her evening babysitting job. Then in the afternoon she got a phone call from a friend about a birthday party they were going to that night. Oops! Since it was not on the calendar and all the planning had been done between Beckie and her friends, I knew nothing about it. What followed was much scrambling around to get a gift, card, arrange transportation with her Dad and to let her friend know they would have to leave the party early to get back for Beckie’s babysitting job. In Beckie’s unreliable memory, the party was the following weekend. This made the case for writing things down on the calendar better than any of my theoretical examples could. So when I heard those sweet words, “Writing it down would work better”, I felt like perhaps I can help my child develop strategies that will serve her throughout her life. For her sake, I hope so.

The Library Basket

I am going to share a very good idea with you, to help you keep track of library books and library DVDs. Get a medium-sized basket and keep it in a central location such as the living room of your house. Inform every family member to keep all library materials in that particular basket, and not to put anything except library materials in it. This will help your family to avoid library fines and the stress of having to hunt for missing items, since it will be easy to keep track of when materials are due back to the library. Before the next trip there you can check the library basket and pull out all of the materials that need to be returned. Ta-Da! No more late notices and overdue fines. Now I should tell you that although I still think that it’s an excellent idea, this has NEVER worked for my family. They drag library books into every room of the house as well as every vehicle and backpack they can find. You’d think they like having library fines or something. Beckie has had a weekly paper route for years, but has yet to realize a profit because every cent she makes has to go toward library fines. That job is the only thing keeping her out of debt at the library. This morning, I got a notice that a DVD I had checked out was overdue – by a couple of weeks! That fine adds up fast, and I was appalled because I had checked with Scott the day it was due back and he thought he had returned it. I even had him double check for it to make sure, and he didn’t find it which made it seem likely he actually had returned it. After I got the notice, I asked Beckie if she had seen the DVD, and she remembered seeing it “under a pile of stuff upstairs”. Now, I never took it upstairs, and we watched it downstairs. So how did it end up in another part of the house? No one knows. No one remembers taking it up there, or seeing someone else take it up there. Yet fortunately someone remembered seeing it or it would still be missing. So go ahead and try the library basket idea. I hope it works for you. Just remember that it’s like all the planners you buy – they only work if you actually use them.

I found it! Lost it! Found it again!

About a week ago, I heard Scott give an excited “whoop” as he yelled out to me “I found it!” Since Scott frequently loses and re-finds things, I had to go see which item had been “found”. This time it was the book I had given him for his birthday last December, “ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life” by Judith Kolberg & Kathleen Nadeau. I actually met Kathleen Nadeau at the CHADD conference last fall, and had her autograph the book. I asked her to write something like “Scott, this will only work if you USE the ideas”, but instead she wrote “All the best” which was probably nicer. Personally, I love organization and office supplies that help keep things neat and tidy. But it’s been well established over our 24 years together that my ways of organizing do not work for Scott. I was hoping that strategies that work for others with ADD might give him some ideas that would actually work well for him, because I have no new ideas at this point. Unfortunately, the book remains unopened and in pristine (unread) condition. As I write this, the book has already been buried a couple inches deep under one of the piles of paper on the desk. Maybe it will eventually end up on the shelf next to another book that Scott lost and found and lost and found over the years. It’s title is “Driven to Distraction” by Edward M. Hallowell. I just checked and it is still on the shelf, so it’s possible that those two books can hang out together when “ADD-Friendly Ways” resurfaces and Scott has another “Eureka! I found it!” moment.

A New Planner

For most of his life, it seems my son Josh and I have been working together to find some organizational system that he will actually use. I personally love organizational tools, planners, and post-it notes. I am also naturally organized, and these materials fit in nicely with the way my brain works. Josh’s brain operates very differently from the way mine does. We have had a much harder time finding anything that appeals to him. He is color blind, so although he sees differences in shades of color it is not as helpful to him to try and color code things. He tends to lose things, so smaller planners disappear like so many socks in the dryer. A wall calendar was somewhat useful, but since he couldn’t carry it with him it didn’t help him once he was out and about. He tried an audio recorder, but since he’s a visual learner he had difficulty remembering to use it and then attending to listen to the recordings. And that’s if he could find the recorder, since it was pretty small and may have joined the missing dryer socks by now. Josh picked out a nice planner a few years ago, and the first week we sat down together to write out appointments. It was downhill after that, with Josh either sure he could remember and therefore didn’t need to write things down, or not having it with him when he needed it, or having it gone for a visit with the dryer socks… But every optimistic bone in my body is tingling now, because Josh himself discovered that the newest generation of the video gamer’s friend, the Game Boy Lite DS, has a planner feature built in! Josh can record appointments, phone numbers, and reminder notes using a stylus that comes with the DS Lite. Unlike other things, Josh always knows where his Game Boy is, and keeps his newly purchased DS Lite in his coat pocket so he will always have something to do if he gets bored. I’m not worried about him losing this, and the potential for this to work for the way Josh’s brain works is great.


My AD/HD family members like to spread out their belongings, and don’t really seem to notice the stacks of clutter until my twitching is impossible to ignore. I realize that organizing and noticing details doesn’t come naturally to them, so to simplify the tasks I sat down and wrote step by step directions for each room in the house. I listed what supplies are needed, where to find the supplies, what tasks should be done daily, which ones only need done weekly, and some jobs that could be done just as needed. I stood in each room, reading and revising the lists, until I was convinced that if each of the items on the list were completed the room would look reasonably clean. I slipped each list into a plastic sleeve, so the items could be marked off with a dry erase marker when completed. I put each sleeve on a ring, so it could be hung on a designated hook and easily located and replaced once a room was cleaned.
I still think it’s a good idea, and it should have worked. Should have. It wasn’t long before the excuses starting coming in – no dry erase marker could be found, the written list had gone missing and no one remembered moving it or seeing it, or my least favorite “The room looked pretty good already.” Just yesterday, I asked my son Josh to please clean the kitchen since he had been assigned that room for the week. He started the dishwasher, then informed me he had to leave for work. Before I could say anything, he pointed out “But at least the sink is empty.” A glance revealed dirty dishes in both sides of the sink, although there were fewer than before he started. I pointed out that the sink was not in fact empty, but Josh just cheerfully replied that at least it looked better than it had. Somehow my AD/HD ones equate “starting the dishwasher” with “I cleaned the kitchen now” even if the sink, counters, and floor are filthy. In their minds, the kitchen is clean and they are happy with it.
Reminders to use the list loop us back to the previously listed excuses. It puzzles me that they seem to like it when things are clean and they can find what they need when they need it, but they won’t put forth the effort to maintain it even when I finally manage to get things truly clean.

organizational skills

Someone wrote to me recently, asking how to help adults who have never developed good organizational skills. Lack of organization skills impacts every area of life, and can leave highly intelligent people at a disadvantage when they can’t get their hands on what they need when they need it. Being brilliant won’t matter much if appointments are missed or deadlines aren’t met. An average person who is organized has an advantage over an average person who is disorganized. Life is complex and there is a plethora of information to keep track of, so as much as we may inwardly rebel against the constructs of organization, we must acknowledge the necessity for it. Here are some tips that my husband uses to help his naturally disorganized brain to keep track of important things. He makes as many daily tasks as possible a habit, done at the same time and the same way so he doesn’t have to think about them and remember what to do next. It’s just automatic. He leaves his keys on top of things he needs to take with him later, even if that means leaving his keys in odd places like the refrigerator, because that way he knows he won’t leave without the item he needs. He uses reminder alarms on his computer, thus freeing himself up from having to memorize dates and times and eliminating the problem inherent in writing notes on napkins and scraps of paper which inadvertently get thrown out by some organized person who thinks it’s trash. He keeps a notepad and pencil handy when he has to sit still at church or some other meeting, because wouldn’t you know that’s when his brain tends to think of things and he can write them down before the ideas are lost. He has used audio recording devices, which I highly recommend for use in the car. That’s much safer than trying to write things down while driving or at a traffic light. The problem we had with that was that the device got lost before a habit of keeping it in a designated spot was established. Despite that, it’s still a good strategy. Just start out with an inexpensive model first!