In today’s fast-paced society, students and professionals are under tremendous pressure to meet various deadlines and be somewhere on time. Time management skills are fairly natural for the majority of neuro-typical people; however, for children with special needs, managing time effectively can be a big struggle.
Some kids with special needs can become easily distracted by extraneous sensory stimuli like noises, smells or visuals that are not relevant to the point of focus. This can make it a challenge to think, act, solve problems and accomplish tasks in a timely manner. One of my goals as a therapist is to teach children how to effectively filter out extraneous stimuli and give them appropriate tools to promote independent success in this area. These tools can help children complete the task at hand while helping them cope with anxiety and frustration.
Teaching Time Management
One of the most effective tools/techniques I’ve found to be helpful is a visual-auditory countdown timer. Children often enjoy impressing a parent, teacher, therapist or caregiver by successfully completing a timed task. This gives the child a sense of pride and makes them feel clever, smart and capable. It’s important to introduce the timer as a friend not an enemy.
Teach the child how it works by letting them set the timer and letting the time expire. For children with auditory defensiveness you may want to silence the auditory alarm or make the child aware that it will beep. As a parent or therapist you can incorporate the timer into something the child already enjoys and is familiar with, such as putting on their clothes or making their favorite food. Give them extra time especially if they are highly distractible.
First, start off in a quiet and organized room with little to no visual or auditory distractions. Once they can perform the fun task with time remaining try the same task in their bedroom, living room or playroom. Once they have mastered the fun tasks, attempt to slightly challenge with a simple academic worksheet they have done before. If the tasks assigned are too challenging, they may shutdown, get upset/aggressive or portray that the timer is against them.
Make it a Lifelong Habit
Now it’s time to teach the child tools for time management skills they can use on a daily basis for the rest of their life. If they were not able to complete the task, solve the mystery with the child. You can ask them, “What were the time robbers?” Maybe it was the sound of the fan, the toys scattered on the floor or their next playdate. Figure out what stole their time and how to defeat the time robber with some tools.
A visual timer is a great tool in conjunction with a picture schedule to increase independence in your child’s daily routines. You as the caregiver get to be the teacher and example. Let your child observe you by setting a timer for tasks you want to accomplish (e.g. laundry, dishwasher, exercise, etc…). Involve the whole family to increase success for task completion and to let your child know they are supported.
Alex Lopiccolo is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Consultant, Jin Shin Practitioner, Wilbarger Therapressure Brushing Protocol Practitioner, Therapeutic Listening Program Practitioner who explores Sensory Integration inspired therapeutic activities. Alex, his wife and baby live in Edmonds, Washington. His favorite activities are spending time with his family and exploring the Pacific Northwest.