Organizing ADHD Kids: Notebook Nightmares!

Posted February 7, 2012 by

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I do not think outside the box — I am a rule follower. I would have been mortified if I did not have my homework ready to hand in when I was a kid. This is why having ADHD children has been such a challenge for me. It would not have been so bad had they had the same symptoms and behaviors. That would have been awesome, but that’s not what happened. These ADHD boys of ours have totally different deficits — and totally different ways of being disorganized.

My oldest was a gifted child, able to compensate for his behaviors until the third grade. As the work got more difficult and he suddenly had to work at it, he decided to pick and choose where he’d put his effort. His effort went into not doing the work. It was about this time he began ditching his math book in the bushes out front to avoid carrying it, breaking or losing his glasses so he did not have to wear them, and losing anything else he had possession of — umbrellas, jackets, lunch boxes.  He would decide the weekly Tuesday night English homework was stupid, so for a year did not do that Tuesday night assignment. He could not keep a notebook organized to save his life. I tried everything — organizing it backwards (remember, I do everything the “standard” way) with the newest material on the top; getting him an accordion style folder; a different folder for each class…you name it, we tried it.

By middle school I knew he needed a smaller environment, not a public school program to address his emotional as well as behavioral needs. Eventually his needs became more apparent to the school so they tried to have a college student “shadow” him and check in with him between classes to see that he had everything he needed. He ditched her every chance he got. Finally he was moved to a non-public school that addressed his needs (a lot of his organizational issues were also addressed at school) and I was finally able to stop pulling my hair out. In his senior year, a light bulb went on. He suddenly “got it,” became amazingly organized and made the honor role. He said to me, “Why didn’t you try harder to ‘force’ me to be more organized?” That’s not to say that he no longer has ADHD — he cannot remember to take a towel into the bathroom with him for a shower or take his medicine each day, but still… he graduated from high school on his own!

Then came my second one who has anxiety out the wazoo. His anxiety kept him from losing things, but his organizational skills were awful. By middle school I could not get him to keep papers in order in a notebook — or in his notebook at all. He would shove them to the bottom of his backpack, and if he was able to find what he needed, he would smooth them out and hand them in. I tried sitting with him nightly and putting reinforcements on the papers and putting them in sections, but he would rip them back out the next day. (He said it took too long to open the rings and take the paper out.) The teachers were begging me to help him keep the papers in the notebook. I turned the task back over to the school and one teacher actually volunteered her after-school time to help him organize his notebook one day a week.

We finally found a notebook in the 7th grade that worked for my son. It was two notebooks in one;  you just flipped it over to access each side. He kept morning papers in one side and afternoon papers in the other. We bought several. Last week, the last one we got fell apart. I gave him an “old fashioned” plastic 3-ring binder and asked if he could make due just until the weekend until we could go and hunt down the same binder again. To my surprise, he neatly organized and labeled his dividers, and placed all of his papers in each section, the “standard” way. After two days he told me not to bother getting a new notebook, he was happy with the lighter feel of the plastic binder and the cool way he could draw on a piece of white paper and slip it under the plastic cover. Imagine my surprise!

Now my stepson, also with ADHD, has his own “notebook persona.”  He both loses and breaks things. His notebook has an accordion folder system in the front, which he totally abuses. He shoves all papers in there, not in sections, along with his library books which put so much pressure on the rings that they break. We thought it was a cool notebook when he got it, but found out it in no way helped keep him organized. I got him a new notebook with no extra pockets and now he shoves papers in his locker. (Sigh.)

At least I know that when we least expect it, he’ll figure it out — when he is ready. In the meantime, all we can do is try to help him along the way.


I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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