Where you see chaos, she sees her own personal sense of order. In this essay, autistic mom Megan Amodeo writes about autistic organizational skills. She wants you to know that it’s not an issue of motivation for what appears to be a disorderly space, just a different way of organizing.
“Clean up, clean up everybody clean up.” I used to sing this song to my children when they were toddlers. It was, in theory, supposed to motivate them to clean up their toys. Cleaning and organizing are part of our day to day lives. Everybody cleans and organizes their personal spaces—rooms, drawers, backpacks—all the time. Let’s take a look at organization skills for those on the autism spectrum. Don’t assume that everyone is a typical organizer. One just needs the motivation, right? This is not exactly true when it comes to autism. I wouldn’t exactly say we (the autism community) are a messy, disorganized group of people. We just seem to have our own way of organizing. I know that I do.
Unfortunately those not on the spectrum (friends, loved ones, neat freak husbands), don’t seem to grasp or understand our autistic organizational structure. That is to say, when I organize something, I know exactly where everything belongs. My husband seems to think my organizational skills and methods are haphazard and random at best. I can remember and find everything I organize. I suppose, there is a slight possibility, that neurotypicals find my organizing to be messy. The stacks of magazines amid school work. The piles of shoe boxes in seemingly random order. To me, these things are in their designated places.
My youngest daughter, who is also on the spectrum, has her own way of putting things in their proper place. Objects are organized into various collections. The thing is, these collections only make sense to her. She owns a varying array of lunch boxes, bags, tins, and other receptacles where she stores her collections. She has lunch boxes of erasers, tiny glass animals, pencils…the list goes on. She knows exactly where every little piece resides. One glance at her room, and my very neat husband, sees complete chaos. To him it looks like a tornado swept through her room. He sees stacks, boxes and piles everywhere. He often asks me why she is so unorganized. My reply is always the same. I tell him she is really not a disorganized person, she just sees organization differently.
This is the thing I want you to understand, we autistics have our own picture of what organization should look like. Let me make one thing clear, this is definitely not an excuse to be messy, to be a hoarder, or live in piles of garbage. I work with my daughter on a daily basis to remind and teach her that everything has to be cleaned up and put away. Some days it can be very tedious to remind my daughter to put away ALL of the stuffed animal bears. Just remember to give your children a little extra grace when it comes to cleaning up.
I realize that there will be stacks of stuff and boxes of stuff that are near and dear that cannot be discarded (my daughter had a box of rocks for ages). I suggest purchasing bins. These are great for collections and can be stacked. Old milk crates also provide storage and organization. I tell my daughter I have to be able to open the door, and I have to be able to see the floor. Of course she is also not allowed to keep food in her room.
I know in her mind, what I see as a mess, she’s sees as perfect. Sometimes I stop and stare at the mess and realize there really is a beautiful system of organization in her chaos. I too have my own beautiful way of organizing…and a wonderful and very patient husband.