Monday, May 19, 2008

Autism Awareness Ribbon jibbitz

Summer's here (it's going to be 108 today in Phoenix, which counts as summer in my book!), which means it's about time for summer wardrobe, including shoes. I don't know about your area, but around here I can't go out to the mailbox without seeing kids wearing Crocs shoes. Our boys have a couple pairs each, so we're part of the phenomenon..

Last summer we bought jibbitz for the boys – the little shoe-jewelry pieces that kids can use to customize their Crocs. They each picked out the ones they wanted, and we also ordered an autism awareness ribbon jibbit online. This year we might have to order a couple more...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Keeping track of mountains of paperwork

If you're fairly early in your journey into autism, this is a very important post. If you've been at this for awhile now, you still might find a few good ideas, but it'll take some effort to pull off a change!

This month marks the 7-year anniversary of Calvin's first home ABA program. That means we've been gathering paperwork from doctors, schools, therapists, the internet, etc. etc. for 7 years. And we've been making our own notes and journals as well, just trying to help make sense of what's going on at any given time. (why is he sleeping better, or worse? why did his bowel movements change? etc. – you know what I'm talking about..)

Well, here's what our filing cabinet looks like today. (yes, it's a mess!)

I could tell you the 8 schools Calvin has attended so far, and the dates he was at each one of them, but you'll need to give me a couple of hours to dig through everything first. What was the med trial we did when he was 4 or 5 that had horrible side effects? I'll need more time to find that answer, too.

You see, at the time things are happening, they seem so easy to remember. But a few years and a couple thousand pieces of paper later the details get fuzzy. If I was starting down this road today, here's what I would do differently..

Keep track of key events in a digital format (on your computer) in a highly flexible format with dynamic search capabilities. Here are some ideas, depending on your level of tech-savvy.

Create a personal blog. You can visit and build a personal blog in less than 5 minutes, and it's free. You can easily checkmark (or uncheck) boxes so that the blog is not available to search engines, and can only be read by those you give permission to. This makes it a private blog, not available to the public. (although I would still avoid writing personal info like SSN, DOB, etc.)

You can create categories to assign to each post (you can even assign multiple categories to a post.) I would create categories for: ABA, Fidget Items (or Stims), Hab, Homeopathy, Horses, Illness, Medication, Music, OT, PT, Speech, School, Sleep, Social Settings, Vacation.

Write a short post whenever something noteworthy happens, with a few of the details & highlights which can jog your memory later. IEPs, Doctor Visits, Medications prescribed, Sleep patterns (he slept through the night for a week straight – yea!). Etc. The blog will time stamp each entry for you.

Over time, you'll be able to search by category, or by words, or by time, and you'll find the posts that match your criteria. Then you'll see the date you wrote it, so it will be very easy to go find the specific IEP you're looking for in your file cabinet. ;-)

Buy Microsoft One Note (<$100). (info here) Imagine having an unlimited amount of notebooks, and each one can have anything in it. A quick, handwritten note. A webpage printed directly to your notebook. Contact information for the doctor's office. etc. You can have a notebook for each of the categories, and you can add anything which pertains to that category to them.

You will find One Note fairly intuitive if you use Microsoft Office products already. It's not quite as fast and easy as the blog idea, and it's not free. On the other hand, it's more robust in what you can store, and it's on your computer so privacy is never a concern.

Use Microsoft Word or Excel. There's no reason you can't build your own journal with either one of these. It may not be as fancy or as dynamic, but either option is a whole lot better than paper stuffed into a file cabinet. Again, I would focus on making notes regarding key people and events. I would try to use the Category Words at the end of each entry, which will help you find things later.

The process can be as simple as opening Word and beginning to type – no different from opening a spiral notebook to write a journal entry. It can also be very detailed with tables, filters, drop-down categories, and more. Those of you who know how to use the power of Excel could build something pretty fancy.

Other thoughts

I'm sure there are other options out there – Outlook Journal comes to mind as another alternative. There are also some great scanners available which have come down in price. I've heard that you can get a commercial-size scanner to scan different sizes of papers and convert the paper text into searchable text for about $700. Someday I might consider one of these to sort through our mountain of paper.

BACKUP YOUR DATA! Regardless of the method you choose, please backup your data. Always think about this: what happens if your computer doesn't turn on tomorrow? CD-ROMs, DVDs, External Hard Drives, – there are many choices available, please use one.