Get organized: Tips for parents of kids with special needs

Aug 7, 2013 at 12:00 p.m. ET

Parenting a child with special needs comes with two non-negotiable requisites: Patience and kick-butt organization skills!

Organized mom

From keeping track of paperwork to prepping before therapy appointments, find out how those super-organized moms do it.

Weekly rituals

Beth's son has Down syndrome, and her Sunday night organization ranges from scouring the backpack to filling a closet organizer for the next five days. "I pick his clothes for all five days, including socks, and slide them into the slots," she explains. "That way in crazy mornings I don't have to think, I can just grab."

Nightly regimens

Many moms believe that preparing the night before is essential to avoid (or at least reduce) the morning chaos.

"We packed all snacks, extra clothes, diapers… in his backpack the night before and anything we could put in the car the night before we did," describes Jenn, whose preschool-aged son has Down syndrome. "That way, it was a guarantee not to forget it in the morning."

Morning habits

Do you fear falling into a lunch box-packing trance and sending Junior to school with the potato peeler and a chilled beer? Beth has tips for that, too!

"I know how many items go into the lunch box (it's five), so when I'm foggy-brained, I can quickly count items and figure out what's missing," she explains.

(Five?? My lunch is missing this diversity!)

  1. Drink ("For us, it's PediaSure," Beth says.) 
  2. Veggie ("I pack frozen peas and they're thawed by lunch! [My son] loves them!") 
  3. Fruit
  4. Protein (e.g., turkey, bologna, hummus) 
  5. A snack (e.g., crackers for hummus, graham crackers, goldfish)

"Bonus info: The frozen peas act like an ice pack and keep the protein cold!" says Beth.

Using a simple folder (labeled!)

When it comes to organization, don't overthink things. Sometimes, simpler is better. "The only tried-and-true thing that works for us is a folder labeled 'home' on one side… and 'school' [on the other side]," shares Jenn. The "school side" holds items such as envelopes for pizza or progress cards that have been signed.

Let’s talk medical items

Whether a child needs medical devices or specific doses of medication at particular times, a backpack can become a rolling pharmacy. For example: 

  • Include copies of instruction manuals for all medical devices
  • Tape or sew a list of medication doses and instructions inside the bag
  • Include extra sealable plastic bags for used dosing tools

Prep for therapy sessions

Organizing tote

Corey has a kindergartener with Down syndrome, and her secret for organizing is the perfect tote bag. The organizing utility tote (Thirty One Gifts, $30) is the ideal size for packing any tools needed for daily or weekly therapy sessions, from physical therapy to occupational therapy to speech therapy and beyond.

  • Pockets for medication or sunscreen
  • Larger pockets for shoe inserts
  • Perfectly-sized main compartment for towels, swimsuits
  • Plenty of room for speech therapy tools

Whatever your child's extra-special need, being organized and prepared helps take some stress off of us parents — and we all know less stress is really special!

More about parenting a child with special needs

When families fail parents of children with special needs
Divorce: Does "Down syndrome advantage" exist?
Please invite my child with special needs to your child's party