Life can be a whirlwind as a special needs parent.
Not only do you have all the normal responsibilities of a parent but you also have so much more on top of that:
- scheduling appointments
- planning outings
- explaining diagnoses
- following up on reports, funding and assistance
- engaging specialists and therapists
- seeking reasonable adjustments
- researching ways to help your child
- managing their day to day needs
- dealing with medical issues
- and so much more…
With all that on our plates, we need to be creative and find ways to make life a little easier for ourselves. We can’t control everything, but there are some parts of our lives that we can better control in order to be prepared for the unexpected.
That’s why I’ve come up with 5 life hacks for special needs parents. These have helped me cope with the increasing demands of my special needs life and have gone a long way to keeping me relatively sane and looking like I have my life in some sort of order.
If you’re a special needs parent too, I hope these life hacks might give you a little bit more breathing space as you continue the delicate juggling act that is our lives!
5 Life Hacks for Special Needs Parents
We all struggle with the daily challenge of sorting out dinner. It’s one of those things that will never change so it makes sense to take advantage of the predictable nature of dinner and put together a weekly or fortnightly meal plan.
I shop fortnightly and put together a meal plan before each shop. This helps me stay focused when shopping and takes one big decision out of my day. I know I’m completely exhausted each evening – the last thing I want to do is have to use extra energy to make a decision on what we should eat as a family. Having a meal plan takes that responsibility out of my hands.
If you are struggling with making meal decisions or resorting to nuggets or takeaway way more than you’d like, try meal planning and see how it can help you. As you’ll note on our plan, the kids’ favourites still make regular appearances but it gives us the chance to space meals out and encourage them to try new things. It’s truly changed my life!
Tip: get your kids involved in putting together the meal plan (this is a strategy we use to challenge our son to try new things).
Organise Your Paperwork
OMG. The paperwork we have acquired over the years for our kids is astounding. We have multiple diagnoses, re-assessments, reports, updates, funding requests, requests for adjustments, information files and resources. Then there’s invoices, receipts, applications and other random bits of info that need to be kept “just in case.”
The paperwork can be overwhelming. If you don’t organise it or get a handle on it, you’re going to struggle to prepare for that next meeting or flounder when you’re asked for proof of diagnosis (again!) It helps to have a system in place so you can quickly and easily find the information required via child, diagnosis or in chronological order.
If you don’t already have a system in place, make time to get your paperwork organised. Depending on how much paperwork you hold, you can use plastic wallets, display folders, magazine holders or lever arch folders and plastic sleeves to organise files. We use a combination of folders and a filing cabinet – we have A LOT of paperwork!
Tip: don’t forget to put a system in place to organise electronic files as well!
You may already have routines in place for your kids, but have your considered using routines for yourself? I’ve found developing routines can help me stay on top of everything I need to do. Looking at how you use your time and finding ways to make the most of it can make a huge difference, everyday.
Yes, the routines don’t always work, particularly if you get those calls from school or sudden things pop up (as they do, I know!) However, developing little routines each day, and looking at how you can systematise your time, is a life hack that can save you time and your sanity.
For instance, look at making school lunches in the evenings, to free up your time in the mornings. Schedule a walk after school drop off one morning a week to guarantee self-care. Work out a system to clean your house, a little each day, to ensure it happens but can built into your busy life. Routines can really help.
Tip: use diaries, calendars, or charts to keep track of your commitments and identify where routines could help.
Create a Place for Everything
One of the big challenges I face as a special needs parent is keeping on top of the housework and knowing where everything is. If something is lost or if I fall behind in tidying and cleaning, it can have huge consequences for me and for the wellbeing of my family (i.e. leading to increased stress, anxiety and meltdowns).
Another life hack that has helped me over the years is to make sure there is a place for everything, to bring some sort of order into the chaos of our lives. We use a cube unit in the hallways to hold the kids’ school bags, sunscreen, hats, spare change and anything else that we need to access quickly and easily.
We’ve also set up organisation in their bedrooms to help them start to get more organised (to lessen the load I carry as the stay-at-home parent). It can be a struggle to keep on top of it all, but it does help to create a place for everything and to develop systems so your family can also help in putting everything back in its place.
Tip: set up a command centre to lessen the load in the mornings and in the afternoons too!
Write Everything Down
I used to have a phenomenal memory which has now been completely fried by over 14 years of special needs parenting. My biggest life hack? Write everything down. Even if you don’t think you need to. Because, even if you think you won’t forget, you’re bound to get dates mixed up, appointments confused or wires crossed.
I use a paper diary and a wall calendar to note everything down. I love using an A4 week-to-a-page diary as it meets my personal and business needs and allows me to see my week at a glance. My favourite calendar is the family organiser one that allows you to write events next to each person. Very handy when scheduling multiple appointments on the same day!
Apart from not forgetting or mixing up appointments, writing everything down will help quiet your brain. You won’t need to remember quite as much and you may find writing down your appointments and routines will help with your mental health and with your overall wellbeing. This is a life hack that really works!
Tip: when out and about use electronic calendars and note apps to keep on top of things
What life hacks do you use as a special needs parent? I’d love to add more to my life!
This post is part of our new series “5 Things Special Needs Parents Should Know”. If you’d like to submit a guest post, or if you have a topic you’d like covered as part of this weekly series, send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org