Planning & Organizing

It’s that time of year.

I’m shamelessly susceptible to commercial marketing.  Candy corn never crosses my mind until midway through September when the backpacks and crayons disappear and Halloween candy floods retail stores.  I’m first in line for a gingerbread latte on November 1. Right now, it is in the high 80s in Southern California and I still bought a pair of gloves last week. 

According to the retail stores, we are currently in the three-week window (before the Valentine’s Day rush) when we should be organizing our homes as we pack away winter holiday paraphernalia and find places for the gifts we received.

If you’ve been bitten by the organizing bug, consider taking some time to organize your child’s home program.

Physical Space

Organizing therapy space is very dependent on the nature of your child’s program.  I recommend checking in with the lead therapist or supervisor before making any major changes, as they may have some specific ideas that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your child’s home program.   With that in mind, here are a few organizing suggestions.


–          Create a home base for the therapist.  This space should be large enough to store and organize therapy supplies that stay in the home, including pens, Post-Its, tape, scissors and stimuli.  Ideally, it would also be a place where the therapist can store his or her bag during sessions.  It should be inaccessible to your child and their siblings – with regularly used reinforcers kept here.  If not, they need to be stored in another location that will not provide your child with free access.

–          When organizing toys or clothes that you expect your child to use (and clean up) independently, use labels that your child understands.  If your child is not reading, label bins or drawers with pictures or drawings rather than words.  Adhesive business card sleeves are my personal preference.  They stick to bins and drawers and you can easily change the label when you change the contents by sliding in a new picture or written label.

–          Store toys and reinforcers in clear bins.  Just as we might do an inventory of our pantry before going to the store, when children see the contents of their bins, it serves as a reminder of what they have.  This increases the likelihood that they will mand for these items because they can see the options available rather than having to recall all their toys from memory.  If for some reason the therapy team needs to store an item out of sight from the child, a clear bin can always be lined with paper or the item placed in a bag.

Therapy Space

–          Find space in your home for the therapy team to store toys and materials that will be inaccessible to your child outside of sessions.  Motivation is essential to an effective ABA program.  If your child has free access to toys and materials used during sessions, they may quickly lose motivation to access those items during therapy.  This can dramatically slow learning and shift the focus of therapy from learning new skills to identifying new items and activities that are motivating.   Communicate with the therapy team to see which toys or materials they would like kept out of reach.

–          Keep things close to the location where they will be used.  This practical approach to organization isn’t always our first instinct.  For example, you may currently store all your child’s homework supplies in her bedroom, but if your child always does homework in the dining room, it makes sense to keep those supplies in the dining room where they will be used.  This reduces the task demand for doing homework because your child will not have the added chore of gathering and putting away homework supplies.

–          Once you find storage locations that work, be consistent, especially if the therapy team and your child will be going to those locations to access items.  Knowing where things are located reduces frustration and confusion for your child and increases their independence at home.

Paper Organization

–          Some ABA programs, like Skills® are now web-based.  Having worked in the field for many years before the advent of tablets and web-based data collection, I cannot overstate how fantastic this new technology is!  No overflowing log books exploding during a clinic meeting, no need to file data, and no risk of losing valuable information because of leaky sip cups or a sibling who wants to “collect data” all over the behavior graph.  If you aren’t already using web-based curriculum and program management such as Skills®, now might be the time to start.

–          Store additional documents electronically with a scanner.  Organize and save IEP records, school work, assessment reports and medical records on your computer or a cloud.  If you have a large backlog, this might take some initial work, but getting rid of that foot-high stack of papers will be worth it, and it makes retrieval and sharing of documents much easier too.

Wishing you and your family a productive and Happy New Year!