Backpack Blindness and ADHD

Backpack blindness happened in my home tonight and if you are not familiar with backpack blindness that’s ok because it’s a new term I just coined. If you have a child with ADHD backpack blindness has probably happened to your child too.

Last night my high school age son responsibly completed his math homework and, I can verify, it was legitimately done because I saw him do it. Next he responsibly put his homework into his backpack. It was between that point and his math class the next day when the paper disappeared.  He went to retrieve it from his backpack to turn it in and the math sheet had vanished. It was then he realized he missed the critical step of placing the paper inside his Algebra folder instead of within the backpack’s general cargo area.

When he returned home and told his mom she decided it was time for a search and rescue event.  Since she often functions as his executive assistant, she helped him retrieve his backpack and pull everything out with the hypothesis that the paper must have slid into a rogue folder.  They both went page by page through each notebook in search of the missing paper.  When it didn’t turn up in a folder he straightforwardly said, “I might be blind and it’s probably in the backpack somewhere.”

At that moment it hit me: backpack blindness. It’s happened here before and a familiar tale I’ve heard from many of my clients that have kids with ADHD.  The good news is there is a cure for backpack blindness and it’s simply frequent backpack and notebook checks.  If your child has ADHD I recommend at least once a week you have a good backpack and notebook organization session. Ideally a teacher at school would require weekly notebook checks but if not, you can do the backpack- notebook check.

If your child is in middle or high school you may have asked yourself, “Do I really still need to do this?” The answer is yes.  You probably know a classic characteristic of ADHD is weak organizational skills.  Thus, as long as your child needs it, you can play the executive organizer role.  What I find is that parents don’t help their child long enough.  Many parents realize they need to help their ADHD child but get to a point where they stop because they think, “Surely I’ve shown her/him enough times that they can do it on their own by now.”  This is where parents’ expectations don’t take into account their child’s ADHD.  Try to keep the mindset that your child with ADHD requires at least double, if not triple, the time you think they should need to learn and internalize a skill so they can apply it independently.

The goal here is not to enable your child or create dependency but to teach him or her to create a personal system.   Developing a personal organization system takes time.  Thus, stay the course and continue to help your child for a long as it takes.  It will get better.   Contact me if I can help you– help your child.

P.S. We never found the missing homework.