Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Oct 12
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by Jess

We live in a society of constant demands and where multi-tasking holds high value. Yet organization, especially when managing the many appointments, therapies, medications, latest research, as well as behavioral and emotional demands of a child with special needs, can be far from straight forward.

Organization, cleaning, time-management – these are skills that are often thought of as requiring knowledge of and practice with simple strategies. They may come naturally to some; not so naturally to others. Regardless, they are learnable. As the demands in your life diversify and increase (which undoubtedly happened after having a child with special needs), adapting or refining those skills also becomes necessary. 

• Make a list of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and activities

• Prioritize activities by importance or urgency (differentiate between what seems urgent and what is actually, truly important)

• Whether electronically or with a good ole’ fashioned pen, cross off items as you complete them for a rewarding sense of accomplishment.

• List some items you’ve already done just so you can cross them off and feel good about it!

• Break large or long term tasks that might take weeks or longer into smaller tasks that can be finished in a day or less.

• Turn off distracting electronics when you need to focus

• Use a calendar that works for you (physical or electronic, or a combination of both!)

• Color code tasks by themes (for example: blue for child #1, orange for child #2, green for personal tasks)

• Purchase organizing trays, files, etc. for paperwork, reports, or the like (label trays “to do”, “to send”, “to file” or “important”, “not so important”, “rainy day”). E-mails can be sorted in the same way.

• Be realistic with your expectations of what you can accomplish in one day or week

Many of these tips may not be new to you. In fact, most parents know how to organize yet still feel unable to do so. If this is the case, it is useful to look to less obvious factors that could be impacting your ability to sort through the junk mail or schedule your dental appointment. Remember, simple does not necessarily mean easy.

One key factor that could be making the laundry pile up is stress. Interestingly, studies in work settings show that the relationship between stress and productivity is an inverted U. In other words, some stress increases productivity but too much stress leads to a dramatic drop in productivity. It would not be surprising if the same applied to home life. Researchers also suggest common causes of work-related stress include: lack of support, unpredictability in the environment, and inadequate reward. It seems reasonable that these could apply to the work of a care-giver. Add to that the unique stresses of caring for someone with special needs along with a spouse and perhaps additional children or pets. It stands to reason that the state of your home, the unpaid bills, or the 3 different books that you started but never finished could be a result of restlessness, lack of motivation, or poor focus (in other words, elevated stress).

Indeed, people have long believed in a link between how organized one’s environment is and the organization of their internal emotional or mental state. While the saying, “Cluttered desk, cluttered mind” may not always be true, it certainly illustrates the experience of elevated stress. Even the ancient Chinese believed in a set of laws of organization and aesthetics that had the power to improve one’s life by promoting positive energy. While the effects of Feng Shui may not be grounded in western science, the tenet that organizing one’s environment promotes mental acuity, emotional wellbeing, and aids in managing life changes certainly has merit. Take, for example, the strong biological, emotional, and psychological urge expectant parents have to clean and organize their environment. Indeed, “nesting instincts” have been documented in other mammals and birds, as well, that suggest a purpose beyond the practical. Getting organized can be an opportunity to balance your emotional and psychological state.

Certainly lowering stress levels can help you become more organized, yet becoming more organized can also help lower stress levels. The secret is not only in the end product (e.g. “the paperwork is organized so I won’t get stressed trying to find something I need”) but in the actual process of organizing. In other words, in the right mind set, the very process of straightening up your environment can help shift your internal world to feel more organized and calm as well. The trick is to frame the acts of organizing, completing tasks, and cleaning, as self-healing acts in and of themselves. Here are a few ideas:

• Create a mantra – like a runner’s mantra, creating a short saying will help you focus on the task at hand. For example, repeating the phrase “I have nowhere else to be. I have nothing else to do” can help you stay with a single task without getting distracted (and stressed) by the many other things that need to be done.

• Create a ritual – Sit down and have a cup of tea while sorting mail; turn on music while cleaning the house; race a 30 minute clock to get 5 small tasks done; stretch and breathe for 5 minutes before tackling your to-do list. Rituals help not only to establish routines but also help transition people into new tasks or frames of mind for performing tasks.

• Think of organizing as an act of cleansing – Feel the relief of throwing out things you don’t need in your life; find a place and purpose for those things you do need in your life.

• Find small pleasure in the mundane - Vacuuming is only tedious because we tell ourselves it is. Use the time to clear your mind, hum a song, and simply vacuum without having to think about or DO anything else. Ahhhh.

• Pay attention to unhelpful thoughts - Telling yourself “I don’t have time for this”, “this is boring”, or “I’ll never get everything done”, for example, are barriers to completing your task. When thoughts like these arise, simply note them and try to return to a more objective evaluation of the present free of judgment or labels.

As stressful as life may be, stress is not inescapable. Whether you get organized from the inside out, or the outside in, gaining a sense of control over both your internal state and your environment is only a thought away.

Bio note: Erica Curtis, MFT, ATR-BC is a therapist, lecturer, and avid writer on parenting topics. A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Board Certified Art Therapist, Erica works with children, parents, adults, and families in her practice in Santa Monica, California. For more information visit: www.TherapyWithErica.com


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