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Why Staying Organized Is a Struggle as Someone With Learning Disabilities

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As part of my nonverbal learning disability, I’ve had a pretty severe executive function deficit since I was a child. This kind of functional gap means I have trouble doing things like staying organized, remembering where I put my things, or knowing how long a task takes to complete. Everyone who has this problem shows it a little differently. Some people are late for everything. Some people have trouble turning in assignments on time.

For me, it manifests mainly organizationally, probably because I also don’t have very good spatial skills. My closets constantly look like a bomb went off, and unless I have someone help me, my house never really looks “clean.” I lose my stuff around my house a lot, and it takes me a lot longer to get ready in the morning than most people.

But there are a few things I want to just stop hearing from the people in my life:

1. Have you tried [insert organizational method here]?

Probably, yes. If I haven’t actively tried it, I’ve probably looked into it already. The problem with most of them is they’re geared toward visual people and I have poor visual spatial skills. All the colored, labeled bins in the world aren’t going to help me if the wrong stuff gets put inside them, and it inevitably does because putting things in the correct spots takes me an immense amount of concentration. It only takes one day when I’m tired/anxious/off my game for something to get lost in a chasm forever.

2. Where did you last have [lost item]?

There are two separate problems with this. One, if I knew where I last had a lost item, it likely would not be lost right now. Two, since I have poor executive skills, I likely don’t remember this anyway. I might have a very clear memory of entering my home with whatever I lost. Unfortunately, it’s rarely more detailed than that. It’s not that I don’t want to help myself find it, it’s that I literally can’t remember.

3. If you cared about your things, you wouldn’t lose or break them.

I actually care about my things a lot, probably more than most people. I have a lot of collectibles I put on shelves, then intentionally never touch again, because then nothing bad can happen to them. When it comes to more important items like my wallet, keys or cell phone, please remember  they are instrumental to my daily life. Losing them is far more distressing to me than anyone that might be helping me look for them, and I wouldn’t just misplace them carelessly or intentionally.

4. If you spend 10 minutes a day, you could have a clean house.

This one is my favorite. Looking through other case reports, almost everyone who is an adult with NVLD really struggles with cleaning and organizing. It takes me far more than 10 minutes to clean a room, and by the end of the effort I’m exhausted. For that reason I usually concentrate on the most vitally important areas to keep clean, like my pets’ cages and litter boxes, and my horses’ stalls. If I kept a spotless house, I wouldn’t have time for almost anything else. I’m fortunate to have enough resources to hire cleaning services once a week or so, but other people aren’t that lucky. Please try not to judge people with a cluttered house, because they may not be able to help it.

5. You’re just lazy.

The kid down the street who can’t read without glasses must just be lazy too, for not staring at the blackboard until the words appear clearly. Good thing wearing glasses is an acceptable form of disability in our society.

6. You’re able to do [other task] just fine.

The other task you’re referring to probably doesn’t take me as much effort or concentration as things that lean heavily on my executive function. Digital tasks aren’t nearly as stressful for me to keep track of, because most digital pieces of equipment, like my work computer, have a search function. I can’t search my house by keyword for the folder with my important documents in it. This is also why everything I have is digitized immediately if there is any possibility at all of doing so.

Basically, organizational tasks take me a lot longer and a tremendous amount more effort than they do for a neurotypical person.

I’m not lazy. I’m not failing to try hard to keep up with my things. I don’t fail to care about precious, important or sentimental items, and if anything I try even harder so nothing happens to them. I just have a neurological problem. It’s one of the only things about myself I wish I could change. A little understanding goes a long way.

Getty image by Toltemara.

Originally published: July 4, 2018
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