Josh is a seven year old second grader for whom my neighbor babysits for five days per
week at her home. Josh is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It seems that
each day Josh leaves her house, it is an absolute mess. If he has decided not to play with his toys
and leave them all over the house as he usually does, he will make a mess of miscellaneous items
around the house not belonging to him. He will often go into tupper ware cabinets and leave
them all over the kitchen floor. He will take newspapers apart, page by page and leave them on
the table spread throughout the house. Susan, my neighbor, finds herself continually discussing
the importance of cleaning up his mess with him. She reports finding herself becoming frustrated
as a result of these lengthy attempts at making him understand why he must clean up after
himself. She explains to him that it is not nice to leave someone’s house a mess. She continues
telling him that since he is the one making the mess, he too is responsible for its clean-up.
However, at six o’clock, upon his mother’s arrival, he runs out of the house, leaving his mess
behind for Susan to clean. Susan came to me asking for help.
I started to come over sporadically while Josh was there. The first thing that I realized
was when Susan started going on her tirade about the importance of cleanliness, Josh was turned
off right away. It was as if it was too much information for Josh to process. Instead of
understanding and beginning his clean-up, he would begin jumping around, singing, shouting etc.
He had decided to completely tune her out. As a result, I informed Susan of the short sentence
technique. We decided to no longer attempt to enlighten Josh with the importance of order and
instead, we chose to simply say “clean up time!” at five o’clock. At this time, it was no longer an
option for Josh to continue playing. He was not allowed to take out any other items after five
o’clock. After five o’clock we simply sat and watched, periodically, making short clean-up
statements. I was somewhat unsure of whether or not this technique would work with Josh,
considering his history of an inability to follow instruction.
However, I was shocked at how well this rather simple technique helped. Josh no longer
tuned Susan out. He would simply begin putting everything away. It helped that we first
explained to him that after a certain time, we would no longer play. We explained that we would
simply announce that it was time to clean up and therefore, there would be no more time to play.
We discussed the need for everything to be in order in time for Josh to go home with his mother.
For a week, I observed and engaged in the “short sentence” technique. It was obvious that Josh
preferred it over Susan’s long-winded explanations. It seemed that Susan was not the only one
getting frustrated by these explanations. In fact, Josh was getting frustrated too and his lack of
responsiveness seemed to be a sort of coping mechanism. In using a simple short sentence, Josh
responded immediately. He no longer reacted inappropriately. He simply began to clean up from
day one of the intervention.
In conclusion, I was impressed by the effectiveness of such a simplistic technique. One
would think that this technique may only be effective if used with “normal” kids as it is quite
uncomplicated. However, being that Josh is quite involved behaviorally and it worked despite his
disorder, one can conclude that before technical or more involved interventions are used, the
most simple of interventions should be employed. This behavior, as reported by Susan, no
longer occurs and Susan is still using this technique almost one month after its initial