After the Fall

At the start of the summer, the ceiling came crashing in. Reading that, I realize it is the kind of experience any parent of a special needs child might relate to. But, no, I mean our air conditioner overflowed and literally dumped a ton of water, sheetrock and soggy insulation onto the middle of my office floor. A blessing in disguise. With repairs underway and everything inaccessibly piled up in my bedroom, I had several weeks to consider what really mattered in the jumble of books, papers and mementos. What, after being stored in a bag, box, file or pile for months or even years was really worth keeping.

I discovered my bottom line. Either something was important enough to be placed exactly where I could find it or it was out the door. Approximately thirty bags of trash later, I have a beautifully revamped office; I’ve rediscovered wonderful information, articles and contacts; and, I feel ready to face the world. That last came as a surprise, but it shouldn’t have. My mother always told me, “You can’t start the day right until you make your bed.” Organizing your surroundings, clearing out the clutter in the room helps clear out the clutter in your mind. It’s like lining up your paint brushes and laying out your colors before you begin to paint or setting out all the ingredients before tackling a new recipe. Order opens the way for clarity, creativity and just plain getting on with it.

Not everyone organizes in the same way; but, some path to knowing where to find what you need is essential. I confess to being a bit of a file cabinet diva. Amazingly, I eliminated a complete extra deep two drawer cabinets worth of materials in the purge. But, I still have six beautifully organized cabinets remaining. As Mom would say, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

After hiring a lawyer to fight for my daughter’s out-of-district placement, I renewed my love of the three ring binder. Now I teach my clients to prepare for a court date or potential referral to a lawyer from day one by organizing all their child’s records in a binder. You just can’t take a file cabinet to a meeting and there is nothing like having the information at your fingertips. Kotin, Crabtree and Strong, the pre-imminent Special Education Attorneys in Boston, prepare their legal documents in strictly chronological order. That includes everything: educational testing, IEP s, evaluations, medical records, parent-school communications, specialist reports and recommendations, you name it. All numbered and indexed in front for quickly finding what you need. I like to add a second index that summarizes the critical findings of the documents like key diagnoses, test scores, placement agreements, and recommendations. I also keep notes and summaries with the original documents.

Last night I attended a workshop led by Heather Conner for PIN (Parent Information Network) on organizing your child’s information for the IEP. Heather provided each parent with a My IEP Toolkit, a set of 12 color coded dividers developed by Carla Binswanger and Rose McDermott designed to organize your child’s information. This system uses categories like “Academic Testing & Evaluations,” “Report Cards & Progress Notes,” and “Legal Matters.” On the front of each section is valuable information on what to include. On the back of each divider is space to list the individual evaluations or other content of the section. I still prefer the simplicity of chronological order, but, it is about what helps you to find what you need, when you need it. To find out more about the My IEP ToolKit visit

Don’t wait for the ceiling to cave in or your kid to need an out-of-district placement. Get organized now. Use a system that is clear, portable and helps you to know exactly where the information you need can be found. Now is a great time for deals on binders, so get back to school with the tools you need to start the year strong as your child’s best advocate.

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