If your child has a diagnosis of any kind, you’ll soon find yourself drowning in paperwork. Our fourth tool in the Autism Mom Toolkit, The Binder, is strictly for use by the caregiver, but I promise your children will reap the benefits.
What is it? IEP binder. Special Needs Binder. Care binder. What you call it isn’t important; I just call ours The Binder. It started as a 1-inch binder and quickly grew to a 3-inch. Save yourself the trouble and start big. Ours looks like this.
What is in it? Ours contains every evaluation, IEP document, checklist, and tip sheet I have collected over the years that is applicable to Henry’s education. Evaluations and IEP documents are placed in chronological order. I use protector sheets to group like items. A set of IEP documents from one meeting, for instance, will be placed together in one protector sheet.
In the front of the binder are documents I may need to access quickly, like his student information sheet (see blank one below) and a list of “Accommodations to Consider for Students with Problems in Organization.” Another example would be the sensory input suggestions from Henry’s former occupational therapist.
[Note: If your child has a medical diagnosis, you may want a separate binder for those appointments and related paperwork. This might include doctor’s notes, lab reports, hospitalizations, food intake trackers, medications, growth charts, etc. See More Resources at the end of this post.]
When do I use it? Before an IEP meeting, I review the previous IEP goals as well as any testing that has occurred in the classroom since that meeting. Keith and I then make a list of items we want to discuss with the team. I tag any relevant documents we will need in the meeting so they will be easy to find.
If you are hoping to add, remove, or revise a goal, I suggest bringing documents that would support your cause. In that case, you may want to keep pertinent teacher and/or therapist communication and samples of your child’s classwork in your binder as well.
Why make it organized and pretty? I’m a firm believer that your appearance in an IEP meeting is as important as your documentation. You need to look like you have it together, even if you’re falling apart in your car 5 minutes beforehand. The prepared parent shows the rest of the team that you take the time to research and understand your child’s needs. Your requests are educated ones, not fueled by fact-less, emotional passion. And, let’s face it, no one – including you – wants to waste the meeting time thumbing through haphazard files.
Why put your child’s picture on the front? Easy. To keep your child’s beautiful face in front of you at all times. If your binder doesn’t have the clear-view front, pull one out and lay it on the table. You want to remember your child is a whole person with strengths and abilities, feelings and interests — and you want the rest of the team to remember that too.
The best advocate is the prepared advocate. We can’t ask for what we don’t know our kids need; we can’t know their rights if we don’t do our research; and we can’t speak intelligently about any of this if we can’t find the documentation. So, let’s roll up our sleeves! How I can help you?
- Understood.org has a helpful article and short video (2:20 minutes) on How to Organize Your Child’s IEP Binder.
- Pete Wright of Wrightslaw, the leading authority on special education law, also has helpful advice on Organizing Your Child’s Special Education File.
- The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism has a brilliant article by Jennifer Johnson on how and why to use a care binder. Hers is more geared toward medical issues, but most of it still applies even if your child does not have a medical diagnosis. Her post includes a link for tools and medical forms you might want to use, but that link has since been updated. You can find those tools here.