Backpack Organization Tips for School Success with Tourette Syndrome

Isn’t it fun having to shop for new school supplies with binders, paper, pens and pencils? Starting out with good intentions of keeping an organized locker, desk or backpack is something that we all strive for when we start out the school year.  However, when a student has Tourette syndrome, ADHD and/or executive functioning difficulties that lead to organizational limitations, maintaining an organized school space can be difficult.  Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Your student’s backpack looks like it has been ransacked through.
  • Your student receives zeros on assignments that you know they have completed, due to the fact that they did not turn it in.
  • Your student forgets to have you sign important paperwork at home because they forget to have you sign it.
  • Your student’s homework or paperwork is wrinkly.

If any of these things sound familiar, your student might have difficulty with organization, especially with backpack organization.

To combat this, it is important to start with an efficient and simple organization structure from the beginning of the school year. Here are some basic tips and strategies that could be beneficial for backpack organization:

  1. Keep things simple
    1. Eliminate extra folders. Minimize the need for extra binders, folders, compartments, etc. Try to keep everything in one binder or trapper keeper (if possible) so that your student’s paperwork will also go in one place.
    2. Have one folder for paperwork to take home and paperwork to return to school. This can include all work from all classes. Minimizing the need to open many folders from many classes will minimize the error and forgetfulness.
  2. Use a color-coded organization system
    1. Have your student identify a color coding system for school materials. For example-if your student identifies that math is a “blue” subject, then the book cover should be blue and the folder should be blue
  3. Have a weekly clean out day
    1. Add into your chore schedule, once a week, a backpack clean out schedule in which you help your student take out unnecessary items from their backpack. To avoid throwing away important papers, have several boxes or containers that are labeled (see example picture below)

Backpack organization for tics boxes 4.   Set out backpack the night before school to avoid any rushing the morning of school

5.  Use a productive planner

1.  Explore use of executive functioning training planners such as the Work Smart Academic Planner or planners that assist in long term work planning

2.  Occasionally complete planner “checks” to ensure appropriate use of planner and reward for appropriate use and upkeep to encourage continued behavior

Maintaining an organized backpack can take some effort, but if started appropriately at the beginning of the year, it can foster appropriate organizational skills from the start. For more resources, follow up with your local Occupational Therapist and/or Speech-Language Pathologist.  Further resources are also available on the Tourette Association of America Webpage.

About the Author


Heather Simpson, OTR/L

Heather Simpson graduated with a B.S. in Exercise and Sport Science with a minor in Early Education from the University of Florida in 2007. Following…

Read all articles by Heather Simpson, OTR/L