Family-tested solutions
for Special Needs

Toddler and mother playing together

Family-tested solutions
for Special Needs

Toddler and mother playing together

Sorting Problems into Priorities


This morning I did a search on the words “back to school special needs parent advice.” In 0.65 seconds, the search engine returned 270 million results. That amounts to approximately 28 website listings for each of the estimated 9.4 million children under 18 who have some type of special healthcare need. For special needs parents like us, the internet can be a powerful tool, or a crutch we use to beat ourselves over the head.


Getting from TMI to WIN

“When I first found out that my child had a learning disability, I sat down in front of the computer and didn’t move for days,” says Nicole Eredics, producer of “The Inclusive Class” podcast (who recently shared an intriguing list of 7 Special Needs Parenting Podcasts Worth Listening To.) You can find a ton of parent resources out there, but how do get from TMI (Too Much Information) to WIN (What I Need)?

This 15-minute exercise works for me because it turns problems into priorities, so I know where to focus my attention first.

Problems to Priorities in Five Steps

Step One: Put your worries to one side for about five minutes. Take an inventory of your child’s and family’s functional strengths. Go beyond the top-level answers that tend to show up on the front page of the IEP document. (It’s great that your child is kind to others”, but how will this build expected yearly progress in the reading curriculum?) Instead, drill down to the raw materials that can lead to solutions by considering the five categories of functional strengthsqualities, abilities, interests, assets, and resources). My son’s obsessive interest in dinosaurs combined with the asset of our family’s Frequent Flyer miles became a nine-month plan to motivate behavior with a vacation trip to a natural history museum. Short-term, his gifted special education teacher converted math problems into “dinosaur mysteries” he wanted to solve.

Step Two: Next, sort your worries into three categories—”right now” (first few weeks of school), “down the road” (this school year) and “much later/when my child is an adult.” Your “right now” pile is the action zone.

Step Three: Expand your view to consider “The Big Picture.” Visualize what everyday life would be like on a good day in your child’s and family’s future. Dream big, even if you have no clue how to get there. Why this step? Because life gets simpler when you know where you want to go. In our Big Picture, David could live by himself in his own household. It seemed unrealistic at age 16—but it led to an unfolding series of “right now” action items that paved the way to living independently at 22 (six years ago and still going strong).

Step Four: Choose one to three actions you might pursue in the next 48 hours to manage a “right now” concern. (Note: I said manage, not solve. The idea is stop dreading and start doing.)

Step Five: (Important!) Share this list of strengths, priority concerns, and The Big Picture with school staff by bringing it to an IEP meeting. (More about Get There Project’s Guiding Star process.)

A Day in the Life

A mom I know put together a short PowerPoint to show on her laptop at an IEP meeting. It walked the IEP team through a day in the life of her son’s best possible future after leaving school, identifying strengths and concerns for the start of that school year. School staff absolutely loved it. Creating a brief, written summary that can be attached to the back of an IEP document is another good strategy. Spoken words fade, but written words become part of the record.

Sorting problems into priorities can help you get a grip as school begins. Communicating those priorities effectively will show your child’s education team that you plan to be a full partner in the process.



Wendy Lowe Besmann

Wendy Besmann, Founder and Content Director of Get There Project, is the mother of a son with autism and bipolar disorder. She is the author of Family Road Map: A Step-By-Step Guide to Navigating Health, Education, and Insurance Systems for Families with Special Needs, Team Up for Your Child: A Step-By-Step Guide to Working Smarter with Doctors, Schools, Insurers and Agencies, and (with Kimberly Douglass, PhD) Young Adult Road Map: A Step-By-Step Guide to Wellness, Independent Living, and Transition Services for People in Their Teens and Twenties. She founded Get There Project’s primary partner Team Up for Families, an advocacy and training organization for families living with behavioral, developmental, and other special health needs.

1 Comment

  1. wendy luckenbill on September 4, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    again just terrific and will be shared.

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