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Sorting and labelling: Why are these skills important?

Just yesterday I found myself struggling to find a pair of scissors and tape because I could not remember where I put them. Even though I needed it for less than a minute, it sure took me more than 10 minutes to find it. Soon after, I realized if only I would sort and label my things properly, it would make my life easier. Imagine walking into a room and knowing exactly where your things are would cut down the time you spend searching and make it way less tedious.

Speaking of labels and sorting, to understand any concept in daily life, we categorize things so we can recall them easily in the future. This includes learning to identify and organize things, which is an important skill to have especially for people with special needs. Being able to discriminate between objects and pairing them in groups adds to basic learning. Sorting involves discrimination and putting them in categories which are vital skills, that are easily transferred to everyday life.

Label jars, not people.

-Syracuse University

As learners, people with special needs are required to gain this basic skill to be able to undertake different tasks and work towards building a more complex understanding of concepts. Activities involving sorting act as a visual aid in the learning process for individuals with special needs. It is based on the idea of being short-term (i.e. the activity at hand), quick result (end result can be attained as soon as the task is completed), visually engaging (the activity being done right in front of the individual) and building capacity for long term learning (sorting as a transferable skill).

Sorting – why is it so important?

Sorting may seem like a pretty straight forward activity that we typically do in our daily lives without even realizing it. However, for people with special needs, here are a few positive impacts of sorting and its importance.

Basic learning skills – Discriminating, attention, imitation are key education skills for people with special needs. Various types and level of learning is based on these basic principles. Here is an example of an individual working on staying focused and paying attention to detail.

Learning different concepts – While identifying things, people with special needs learn about different concepts like shapes, colors, sizes, textures. Here is an example of an individual working on recognizing different colors.

Literacy – Numbers and alphabets can be learned as a part of a sorting activity using playthings or toys with numbers/alphabets. Another important aspect of literacy is Number Value i.e. knowing how many make 5 as opposed to recognizing the number ‘5’. Furthermore, as a part of literacy, individuals can also learn categories of different objects like animals, food items, household items. Here is an example of an individual identifying Animals while working on a sorting activity.

Team Work – Working on sorting activity as a group can encourage team building skills. It would bring up group conversations, being a team player, supporting others and social skills.

Self-reliance – Sorting activities can also act as an independent work/task. In order to productively occupy time and learn while doing so, above displayed activities can come in handy or check out the resources we mentioned at the end.

Autonomy – Being able to make decisions and self-correcting or with support, can promote autonomy. As a part of learning this skill, making decisions is bound on every step of the way. People with special needs often lack opportunities to make decisions for themselves but while doing sorting activities, deciding for oneself is often an additional benefit.

Organizing skills – Another important skill that is improved is organizing. When the learning is structured, the same pattern can be used to teach organizing different skills. For example, using empty trays/plates marked as start and finish for sorting to make the task more defined for the individual.

Social Communication – By learning different names, categories, identifiers, people with special needs enhance their vocabulary thus promoting communication and social participation. This skill can initiate conversations between individuals and their caregivers/peers/educators.

Our role as caregivers or educators

Taking into consideration the bigger picture as caregivers and/or educators, we play an important role in teaching this skill. Learning is not bound to sorting activities during social programs or work time. We do it every day through different tasks in our daily lives and it is always a good idea to reinforce the learning.

Here are a few examples:

- Have the individual you support, work with you on putting away the groceries (items in the fridge vs items in cabinets, items to be washed vs items not to be washed etc.).

- Work with the individual you support in putting in/away laundry (colored vs whites, shirts vs pants, shirts vs t-shirts etc.)

- Setting the table for meals (spoons vs forks, forks vs knives, cups vs glasses etc.)

Did you know?

Sorting and labelling are skills that can culminate into professions for people with special needs. Companies around the world have already started showing their support to the differently-abled community, and India isn't very far behind. Hospitality institutions like Lemon Tree have already started employing individuals with special needs on their work force. Costa Coffee, KFC and Mumbai based Mirchi & Mime have also followed suit and it won't take long before more businesses and workplaces decide to roll out processes that make inclusive hiring a norm.

Today’s take away

Here are a few examples of portable sorting activities that could prove to be engaging for the individual you support.

Sorting elements

Shoe box

Sorting folder


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