April 26, 2016

In our busy, dynamic world, it’s easy to feel like you’re being tossed from one obligation to another without any real sense of control or purpose.  While trying to provide the best care for your child with special needs, you may also be busy with personal research, meeting with professionals, driving to miscellaneous therapies, involvement in school and extra-curricular activities and many more things may occupy the day until you find yourself collapsing into bed totally exhausted and confused wondering where the day (and all your lofty goals) went.

Finding balance and self-alignment is difficult and often feels impossible. Many people wonder how to regain a sense of control and purpose and live each day with enthusiasm instead of starting the day filled with fear over what challenges the day may hold. The most effective tool to regain this sense of control is to create and adhere to a schedule.

In his 1999 study evaluating the efficacy of journaling as a self-evaluative measure, W.A. Howatt found that people who construct their goals in concrete terms by planning them out and writing them down were 50 percent more likely to feel they had the ability to attain their goals and 32 percent more likely to feel in control of their lives (Howatt, 1999). Further research comparing students of similar ability found that the most significant feature between those who maintained a strong work ethic in their studies and those who gave up was a sense of control. Those who expressed a sense of control received scores that were a full letter grade higher than those who do not (Mendoza, 1999). As important as thinking about and planning the future is the use of self-reflection as a tool to increase future success. In a study by Sparrow et al, researchers found that persistent people spent twice as much time thinking, not only about what had to be done, but also about what they had already accomplished, the fact that the task was doable, and that they were capable of success (Sparrow, 1998).

Taking into consideration the importance of writing goals down, believing in the ability to control the environment and self-reflection, you may be wondering how this research translates into real-life benefits for you and your child with special needs. Read on to find helpful tips on how to organize your life in a way that makes you more efficient, more successful, and happier.

Tips for creating a parent schedule:

  • Wake up early- If possible, wake up before everyone else to give yourself time to go over your plan for the day and mentally prepare yourself for success. Taking some time in the morning to ease into the day and meditate will set the pace and mood for the rest of the day.
  • Write it down: plan the schedule for the whole week at the beginning of the week. Take into consideration your personal needs and schedule self-care every day.
  • Prioritize: Look at the most important activities in your life and plan those first. Many people are most productive 2-4 hours after waking, so plan to get high demand tasks done during that time and save repetitive tasks for later in the day.
  • Slow down: Plan recovery time. Alternate between activities that are demanding and calming. Scheduling down time and self-care into the day will increase productivity.
  • Relax in the evening- take this time to enjoy calming and relaxing activities. Reflect on the day and adjust the next day’s schedule based on what did and didn’t work well the previous day.

Tips for creating your child’s schedule:

  • Wake them up early: Allowing your child to have a calm, slow morning will help them be prepared and regulated for the day ahead. Making extra time in the morning also reduces stress and pressure bringing your child into the day optimally prepared for learning.
  • Write it down: Developing a physical schedule for your child will help them approach the day with confidence and a full understanding of the plan. Having something stable and predictable (but that also allows for some flexibility) will give them something to hang on to when feeling unsure or overwhelmed.
  • Prioritize: Look at your child’s needs and make sure the things that are most important are done earlier in the day before fatigue and burnout set in. Break up activities based on themes (sensory, gross motor, fine motor, music and movement, meal time, snack time, cooking together, reading together, quiet time, etc) and address themes as needed throughout the day.
  • Slow down: Just as you need to decompress from demanding and overwhelming activities, so does your child. Alternating between sensory activities and more demanding or stressful activities will increase your child’s ability to cope with challenges.
  • Relax in the evenings: Plan time in the evening to relax and reflect on the day. Reflection is an integral part of success and increases self-awareness and self-reflection skills.

-Amber Sobrio-Ritter



Howatt, W. A. (1999). Journaling to self-evaluation: A tool for adult learners.International Journal of Reality Therapy.
Barker, E. (2014, July 23). Here’s the Schedule Very Successful People Follow Every Day. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from http://theweek.com/articles/445444/heres-schedule-successful-people-follow-every-day.
Mendoza, J.C. 1999. “Resiliency Factors in High School Students at Risk for Academic Failure.” Ph.D. dissertation, California School of Professional Psychology.
Sparrow, K.R. 1998. “Resiliency and Vulnerability in Girls During Cognitively Challenging Tasks.” Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, Tallahassee.