Can anyone really multitask? According to Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, when people engage in one task at a time, the prefrontal cortex works in harmony with the other parts of the brain. But, when you toss in another task it forces the left and the right side of the brain to work independently. When the brain takes in new information, it reduces the primary focus of the first task. While teens on the spectrum are not alone in problems with organization skills, the difficulties that they experience with executive functioning can make something like struggling with multitasking lead to an emotional meltdown.

Difficulties with Organizational Skills

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects executive functioning rather than a learning disorder that affects understanding assignments. However, many teens struggle academically due to poor organization skills that result from limited attention spans and slower information processing. 

Cognitive inflexibility, a common feature of autism, is a significant factor in determining how quickly someone can switch between tasks.  Various studies have shown on tests of cognitive flexibility, participants with ASD demonstrate impaired cognitive flexibility and show impaired performance when attempting to perform multiple tasks.

One of the obstacles teens with autism face when multitasking, compared to their peers, is that they struggle to see that there are other options, which can trigger a domino effect of self-doubt and processing shut-down.

Below are several strategies that our experienced staff have found useful in helping build organization skills in teens on the spectrum:

  • Break it down into smaller tasks. While someone with autism may feel disorganized when it comes to multi-step problems, if they are reminded to take one step at a time, they are less likely to try to jump ahead of themselves. By focusing on smaller steps, they are more likely to excel at the task at hand. We often take the daily schedule one activity at a time and leave room for transitions between activities to encourage teens to stay in the present without rushing onto the next thing.
  • Give them more time. Many teens on the spectrum struggle with slower processing speeds. While they are able to handle more complex tasks, they can become quickly overwhelmed when not given adequate time to process each piece. Our academic team works closely with students to complete assignments on their own timing to minimize comparing themselves to other students. Students are offered additional study hall periods when necessary. 
  • Limit the number of tasks given at a time. Another reason that your child might struggle to multitask is that they stick rigidly to tasks in the order that they are given to them. Sometimes, it is helpful to offer one task at a time rather than presenting a longer list with numbered steps. This allows them to focus on one thing without worrying about how it relates to the next part or if they will ever reach the end goal. 

Seven Stars Can Help

Discover Seven Stars is a residential treatment center for adolescents ages 13 to 18 with neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and ADHD. This program takes an innovative approach towards helping students improve their executive functioning and organizational skills to help them succeed in school and beyond. Discover Seven Stars helps students recognize their potential and gain the confidence and skills they need to lead happy and healthy lives.

For more information, contact us at 844-601-1167. We can help your family today!