Organization can be challenging for families living with a special needs child. As the parent of a daughter with autism, I know about the overwhelming day-to-day effort that comes with raising a child with particular necessities. Many areas need to be checked on a daily basis — calendar, paperwork, toys, and so forth. Below are some tips to help reduce stress.
Keeping a calendar is vital for the special needs child because of important doctor’s appointments and IEP meetings you do not want to miss. It does not matter if it is an electronic calendar or paper calendar, just choose your method and stick with it! If you are a tech wiz, then an electronic calendar might work best for you. Electronic calendars on smart phones give you the ability to add lots of information to each appointment.
If you want to have your spouse add the appointment to their electronic calendar, you can send an invite via email. When the appointment is opened and accepted, it will be added to their calendar. This procedure works very well for me and my husband when we are apart and want to schedule something without a conflict arising. The best part of an electronic calendar is the reminder option. You can set the reminder a few days before your child’s appointment so you can prepare paperwork if needed.
Every wireless service provider offers a smart phone. Smart phones have the capability to also store contact information for all your friends, family, and physicians — it’s an all in one small portable tool! If you are not ready for the smart phone upgrade, then the good ole standby of the paper planner is just fine. A few advantages of a paper planner is that you can look at an entire week or month at one time, it never needs to be charged, and adding an event is fast (as long as you have a pencil). You can either have a small one in your purse (remember to add your name and contact number to the inside cover just in case it is misplaced) or a wall calendar. If you have a large family, a wall calendar can work great. Assign each member a colored pencil of their own to enter events, appointments or reminders. Again, it does not matter what kind of calendar you use — just use one!
Paperwork is voluminous with a special needs child, and although you try your best to organize all the documents, evaluations, and reports, sometimes it just gets out of hand. The most common paperwork that is associated with the special needs child is the IEP (Individualized Education Plan). It is endless! What has worked for me for the past five years and is to keep it in a binder. IEP toolkit binders are available on the Internet that will keep paperwork neat, so you can find it when you need it, or you can create your own by purchasing a binder and tabs at your local Staples. It does not have to be fancy, just all in one place!
To maintain the binder with minimum stress, make it a goal to file papers away after your review. Documents that accumulate will make finding them later on difficult. The all in one place method works like a charm for when you have to rush out the door to an IEP meeting — grab the binder and go! For documents that do not need to be in a binder but still need a home, file them away in a filing cabinet. Clearly label each file folder with a bold pen or marker. Having an index in front of the files is a fantastic way to know what exactly is in the file cabinet. Each time you add a folder to the cabinet, record it in the index.
Storing small toys and crafts does not have to be stressful if you have the correct storage bins, boxes, or even bags. When my daughter receives puzzles, it is pretty much a guarantee the small cardboard box it came in will be destroyed. I immediately open the puzzle and put it in a zip storage bag along with the cover of the box cut out. Her puzzles are located in one bin with a photo of “puzzles” on the bin. Because children age out of certain books, I urge my clients to look through books twice a year and donate some of them to a local charity. Because everyone knows a book is a great gift, we can get consumed with too many for storage.
Seek out support of other families that have special needs children and trade ideas how they stay organized. Best wishes!
Photos by HereStanding, Uwe Hermann, and bluishorange