(See our page on Setting Up A 24-Hour Care Schedule)
Create Your "Communication Central"
Life can be easier with a centralized Family Calendar with everyone's schedule in view. There are many calendar products on the market, so the only requirements are that:
1) it can be posted on a wall or the refrigerator (with magnets),
2) it is posted in a central location, preferably near your 'phone station' if you have a land-line
3) there is a pencil or set of colored pens available next to the calendar specifically for use with the calendar.
4) the squares are large enough to write several items per day.
Ideas For Organizing Your Calendar Days:
Color-Coding: You may want to have a color for each person in your family to keep your notes clear - i.e. "dad" has black, "sister" has green, "brother" has blue, and "mom" has red - or something like that. So when "sister" has a doctor's appointment on Tuesday you write "Dr.'s Apt." in green, and "brother" has one on Friday you write "Dr.'s Apt." in blue. Make sure if you are color-coding anything else (like a medicine schedule or 24-Hour care schedule for two kids) that you use the same color for each person all the time!
Pencil: You may want to use pencils instead of ink, if your schedule changes a lot! There are erasable colored-pencils to work with your color-coding OR you can create a symbol for each person and put it next to a calendar entry - i.e. "dad" has a star, "sister" has a dot, "brother" has an X, and "mom" has an open circle.
Stickers: Some people love using stickers to mark various events on their calendar - like a soccer ball for the dates the team plays, and a Dr.'s Appointment symbol or a birthday cake for birthdays, etc. If this works for you and you enjoy it - great! Some stickers take up so much room on the calendar that it becomes a mess, especially if your schedule is busy and complicated. In that case, if you love the idea of using stickers, only use them for major events - like birthdays, holidays, vacations, etc.
Short-Hand: Develop your own short-hand code for calendar entries, so that you aren't taking up too much space on each square - i.e. "2-3 OT" is an occupational therapy appointment from 2:00 - 3:00. When you know what your short-hand code or abbreviations are going to be, it is a good idea to make a "calendar code key" which puts the full name next to the short-hand code, and if you use colors, explains what your colors are for. Post it with the calendar.
CALENDAR CODE KEY:
OT = Occupational Therapy Appointment at Pediatric Therapies of Our City,
ST = Speech Therapy Appointment with Jenny Y,
Dr. Z = Endocrinology Appointment at Pediatric Hospital with Doctor Zelden
Dr. X = Pediatrician Appointment with Dr. Xander
Dr. F = Psychiatry Appointment with Dr. Frank
SP = Soccer Practice
SGH = Soccer Game at Home
SGA = Soccer Game Away (SGA@_______ name of place)
AS = Autism Society, ASJ = Jen from the Autism Society, ASB = Bonnie from the Autism Society, ASN = Nick from the Autsim Society
CM = Case Manager meeting
Green = Sister, Blue = Brother, Black = Dad, Red = Mom
Family Time & Communication
In an ideal and far-away world, we would have a weekly Family Night where we talk over family schedules, issues, problems and victories, followed by a treat to share and something fun to do together. This can be extremely hard to do, even for dedicated parents in 'typical' families! It is even harder with special needs children who may have disruptive behaviors, parents who work extra hours in the evenings to make ends meet, etc. It is worth considering, however, that the more complicated life is, the more communication needs to happen, however it can. Don't beat yourself up if you don't achieve an ideal; try for "good enough" and "what works" for your family!
Here are a couple of ideas to consider (but not to beat yourself up over):
Put a Family Meeting on the calendar for everyone - begin with once a month and finish it with something fun, if at all possible. Make this time 'sacred' and don't allow it to be taken over with other activities if at all possible - it needs to be top priority. Once you have everyone there together, try to make it fun, meaningful and bonding so that everyone is motivated to do it again.
Parent-caregivers with complicated schedules at home and work can use email to catch each other up on their schedules AND have a computer-based calendar that automatically updates each person's schedule. This may be a practical way of handling things when people are rarely together long enough to meet, and when they are home they are too exhausted to work on planning.
I would stress that doing things as a family is still really important, and to create a time for everyone to do an activity together, like a family walk, or game night - something that helps with interaction and allows time to talk to each other. (Movies are fun, but we are not focused on each other while watching.) A walk can combine a self-care health goal, model an active lifestyle for your kids, get you and your kids into a natural environment and away from computers and technology for a bit, and create meaningful family time all in one! (You may need to include your child's Community Support/Respite worker to help things go more smoothly.) If a "family time" event doesn't go smoothly, let it go and don't give up. Review what happened and see what might help to make a better outing next time. Only you know what does and doesn't work for your family!
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