Just last week I was scheduled to head to a meeting for my special needs daughter Elizabeth. You see we are planning the next step in Elizabeth’s journey as she is graduating from high school this year. So as I prepare to head off the meeting, I get together the necessary paperwork: the IEP (Individualized Education Plan), the latest ETR (Evaluation Team Report) , various reports, anecdotal notes, report cards and probably a few other things. But you get the idea.
After I get it all together, I put them into a new accordion file that I purchased for the start of her life after high school. I thought it would be great to separate the before from the after.
And this got me thinking about the amount of paperwork, notes, and records that become part of your life when your child has special needs. I happen to be a pretty organized person due in part to my love of office supplies. I used to be the happy “back to school” child. You know the one, the one who happily picks out their folder colors and binders. Pretty much the one my young son would love to yell at in the aisle at Target.
Whatever got me to this level of organization, I know I would be lost without it. I may not be able to find a paper this second but I can tell you where it is and I will find it….just give me a few minutes.
I thought maybe I would share how I keep track of the always growing amount of papers for Elizabeth. Please know, I am sharing what works for me.
1. ONE YEAR AT A TIME
It is very important to keep all information from each school year together. Such as daily reports, report cards, communication notes that you have exchanged with anyone at the school. Also, any therapy reports from the school or private therapy. I keep everything in one folder for one school year. This way anything that happened in second grade is right there…together. I tried separating things out based on school related items versus private therapy but that just got too confusing and made two folders for each year.
2. PUT THE YEARS TOGETHER
After the school year is done, I take the folder and put it into a big, waterproof bin with a secure lid. Two floods in the basement have taught me the value of waterproof! Once they are labeled, then finding anything the school may need at a later time is really easy and if you forget to put something away, it is easy to locate where it goes as it is all based on the school year.
3. KEEP IEP SEPARATE
I know I said all things in the school folder, but the IEP is such a fluid and working document that I find myself flipping through old ones to read and see how much the goals have been changed or asking myself why then haven’t been.
I have every IEP in one VERY big folder. Along with any ETR reports.
How nice to know all that information is in one place. Simply bring the folder to any IEP meetings. Besides its weight, it is pretty nice to have it all right there.
4. USE A TICKLE FILE APPROACH
Some people use their schedules and calendars on their phones to organize their lives. I do a little of that but because I am a visual person, I go old school and use a calendar, the kind with 12 months of pictures, flowers or cats.
I put it on my desk so that the pictures are tucked under and I see only the months. Then I write down reminders for myself of things for Elizabeth. Such as “call for volunteering in May” I will slide that in the calendar in the month of April and when I flip to April, I will see it.
I do this a lot for all my children but especially for Elizabeth because by using it like this she can help me to write the cards, file them and we can talk about the schedule before it really starts.
5. DO NOT BE OVERWHELMED
Even as I read this, I can see how it may seem like a lot of work, but it really is not. What I mean is think of how many things you have done and worked on for your child that have simply become part of your life. I think so much of it just becomes habit.
The same as a sensory diet can become simply part of your day to life so will keeping all the records in order.
As you know, you never thought you would face the challenges of a child with special needs but you did. You never thought you would rejoice over the little successes but you do. So figuring out how to keep track of life and still enjoy the good things is just one more thing you can do.
I wish you all a blessed week.