With 2007 just a couple of weeks old and many kids back in school, now is a great time to get a handle on all of that paperwork generated by your child’s special needs. I know firsthand how easily, and how quickly, all those reports and other documents can take over your house – and your life.

It’s time to get organized!

When you need to put your hands on important information quickly, and end up spending valuable time searching through mounds of paper and notebooks to find it, that adds to your stress load. Most families of children with special needs already have far too much stress in their lives, right?

That’s why I’m a big fan of good organization!

Don’t let the nasty paperwork trail take command of your life! This is something you can fix, and you can begin anytime the organizational spirit moves you. For most of us, the activity will prove relatively painless, and anyone can do it in the privacy of their own home.

Be aware that the earlier in your child’s life that you begin this habit, the less ‘catch up’ work there will be waiting for you down the road. That will make your job easier. If your child is older and you have accumulated a much larger paper trail, try to break it down into more manageable chunks. Then, make a commitment to doing a little bit each week until you have it all organized.

Your actions will pay off in spades as you prepare more easily and more effectively for all those stressful and on-going meetings and appointments, including annual IEPT meetings. That helps fuel parent empowerment!

Here’s my simple formula for getting a grip on your child’s records:

First, get yourself some colorful file folders, stickers, and three-ring binders. I vote for anything that looks less institutional! Also, purchase some black markers or make sure the ones you have are still going strong. If you prefer colorful markers, use ’em. Just make sure you can read them easily when searching through your files.

The purpose of getting organized is to reduce stress, not increase it.

Next: Create whatever and however many files you need for categorizing your child’s life needs, esp those that generate reports of any kind. Here’s a sample of the kinds of files you may want to create: Medical (you may prefer separate files for physicians, specialists and hospitalizations)/Education/Individual Services (OT/PT/Speech)/Misc Programs & Activities/ Childcare-Respite/Personal (may include a favorite photo, birthday card, a child’s artwork, etc).

Once you have gathered the materials you need, find a good working space where you can keep everything out for a few days as a continued work in progress. If you have to remove everything to serve dinner each night, use a laundry basket.

Gather all your supplies. Put on your favorite music, and don’t be shy! Sing along loudly. It helps up the mood and energy for the task at hand.

Sort through all your paperwork and place all reports/paperwork into the appropriate piles and label those piles so you can easily add to them.

Organize the paperwork and throw out anything you don’t need, including duplicates (shred any paperwork that has sensitive information). Reducing the load will help you keep your files more manageable. Don’t throw away any important official documents (i.e. IEP, therapy reports, etc), or those with special sentimental value.

I suggest placing one copy of official reports into appropriately labeled three-ring binders so you can find them when needing additional copies for meetings.

Label the folders and/or binders.

Place important papers into folder so that you can easily access them as needed. Keeping track of medical records will help you hand over a copy of your child’s history quickly during visits to specialists and for hospitalizations without relying on your memory, something especially tough to do during stressful visits or emergencies.

If age/ability allow, invite your child to help you decorate the files with stickers, etc. to make them even more user friendly. Help your children feel part of the decision-making process about their own life (think self determination!).

-When finished, place the files/binders alpabetically in a file cabinet or other storage place where you can easily put your hands on them. If you need to purchase storage boxes for this purpose, make sure you do that before starting the process.

-Update the files regularly so you don’t fall too far behind on your paperwork (reduce stress!). Schedule a time each week to address filing neeeds.

-Also,provide a corresponding file on your computer where you can add the most critical dates and details so you can also easily print out a copy without going through all the records in your child’s files.

Getting organized can help you to become a more empowererd parent by allowing you to easily access the information needed to address your child’s medical, educational and other needs more accurately, and more productively.

Finally, don’t forget to have fun! We can all use a bit more of that in our lives!
Let me know about all the creative ways in which you make this project even more productive and fun! email: jappwinter@aol.com.

Now go to it!

Author: Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations