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40 'Life Hacks' for Parents of Kids With Disabilities

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I will be honest: anything that has the potential to make my life a little easier is something I am willing to try. It’s actually how I ended up purchasing an Insta-Pot, and I have used it several times since then — definitely a time saver.

It is also how we made the choice to hire someone to clean our house. We had to make financial sacrifices in other areas, but I feel it was simply looking at different priorities as we created a budget. I would rather have someone clean my house every other week than have a Netflix or Hulu subscription, eat out or take trips to Starbucks.

I wondered what other lifestyle changes parents have made, so we reached out to our community and asked, “What are lifestyle ‘hacks’ that make your life easier as you parent kids with disabilities or medical needs?”

These were their responses:

1. “We always have a ‘hospital to go bag’ fully stocked, and it stays in the van. It has everything our little warrior needs on a daily basis and would get him by for at least three to five days. Especially the syringes we need to flush his g-tube and give meds because it seems like 90 percent of hospitals don’t always have the correct syringes for his needs.” — Jasmine K.

2. “The magnet charger for my son’s tablet.” — Sable M.

3. “Right before going to sleep, I fully dress him for school (minus shoes). It lessens some of the morning struggles.” — Jazmin P.

4. “A swing mount on the ceiling of my son’s bedroom. We have different swings we can use on the same mount. He swings several times per day to get sensory input.” — Jessica C.

5. “My instant pot. I often find myself realizing that the day just zipped by and I forgot to or couldn’t prep nutritious food for dinner ahead of time. The instant pot has been a game changer for us because a homemade meal can be on the table in less than 30 minutes. A lot better and cheaper than take-out or fast food.” — Lina B.

6. “Our baby carrier! Since our daughter still doesn’t walk, shopping trips and family outings can be difficult with a large stroller. It is our life saver!” — Kristin C.

7. “Keeping [my kids] on a strict schedule (discussing any changes well in advance), feeding foods they really like for breakfast and lunch (only introducing unfamiliar foods for dinner), printing out step-by-step directions with words and pictures to help them accomplish tasks without intervention.” — Brook L.

8. “When they are all at school I make sure I take 20 minutes to sit with a cup of tea and semi meditate in peace. I also have a week to view rip-off wall chart” — Mel W.

9. “Family binder! Keeping everything I need for my son and the rest of the family in one place has helped immensely. I have a section with my son’s doctors information — phone numbers, future appointments, questions to ask in future appointments etc., a section for finances — bills, savings, goals etc, a section for the family schedule and daily to dos etc.” — Amanda S.

10. “I keep a backpack fully-stocked as a ‘go bag.’ It’s stocked with continence supplies, baggies, crayons, stickers, clean clothes and snacks. We’ve learned many times that emergencies happen, so we keep it ready for appointments, shopping, play dates, church and the occasional hospital trip. The change of clothes is often for spills, but still comes in handy after feeding therapy!” — Kelley M.

11. Cozi family scheduling app. I can put appointments in there and my husband gets them on his phone too. Helps keep us all on the same page.” — Maya BZ

12. Genius Scan and Genius Fax apps on my phone. So much faxing has to be done and who has time for that? Or a fax machine?! I love being able to just use my phone. Walmart grocery pick up! My son stays locked in his car seat and I don’t have to worry about him running off. Caroline’s Cart at Target. My son gets tired easily and is too big for me to lift into the regular carts.” — Dana H.

13. “When he is at school, I don’t do anything that I can easily do when he’s home (fold laundry, load the dishwasher). I instead do things that require more concentration and larger chunks of time.” — Meredith D.

14. “Online grocery shopping with curbside pick up.” — Ashley C.

15. “With twins [with disabilities], I would make sure I could schedule both kids for speech, OT, eye exams, doctors that were shared at the same time. If the doctor wasn’t able to accommodate, I would go to the next doctor on the list till I found one that would.” — Helena S.

16. “We switched to a high protein smoothie for her breakfast. So easy to make and so little mess to clean up before school. We were able to put a washer and dryer in her room. It was a privileged solution and made my life much easier (our other machines are on the second floor). Keep lots of cloth napkins/wash cloths instead of paper. Keep them in the kitchen with the dish towels. Saves a lot of waste.” — Cara C.

17. “Almost daily get myself a iced coffee after school drop off. Only worry about that day’s events. Take naps, and it’s OK if I don’t cook or clean that day.” — Melissa H.

18. “Grocery pick-up is great, but delivery is even better! (If your area offers it) they bring it to your door. I have used Shipt and Instacart.” — Bonnie M.

19. “We use MicroHealth for my son’s infusions — it’s a log. We can keep track of his bleeds and Cath Flo schedule on there, too. It allows either of us to pick up infusion or have accurate information at the ER. We use a combination of Apple Reminders and Walmart to manage grocery lists. We share calendars so we know when appointments are as well.” — Steph R.

20. “ALEXA. Hands down.” — Cryssy T.

21. “[Accessible] parking is well and good, but I much prefer parking next to a cart return. They rarely put cart returns near the [accessible] parking because it’s so close to the store. (But they really should… that’s a post for a different day!) But I don’t want to leave my kids alone in the car to return a cart. So it’s nice to park right next to it.” — Amy M.

22. “Chatting with other moms who get it once in awhile.” — Katie H.

23. “Back-ups of favorite things that might just break. Needed things that without, life is harder.” — Patty M.

24. “I found a [stroller] cooler [at Target] with outside storage too that connects to the bottom of any wheelchair or stroller. This is the best invention made, as it frees up space up top for more luggage up top and keeps drinks, bottles, g-tube feeds and anything else cold for way longer then I expected. It even has a middle stabilization strap.” — Cryssy T.

25. “I always keep my car filled with things we may need: portable potty, clothes, painkillers, wipes, different shoes, etc. Our situation can change at the drop of a hat and I always used to get caught out with nothing as I was never prepared. Looks like we are off camping half the time, but we can relax a little.” — Naomi H.

26. “Self-care is very important. For me that looks like knitting or crocheting, and also date night with my hubby so our relationship stays strong. Mommy hooks (or just really big carabiner clips) to go on his wheel chair when we are out and about.” — Audre R.

27. “Amazon Prime, the No Wait app so I can see restaurant wait times and put our names in ahead of time. Use DoorDash or Uber Eats to have dinner delivered, Ikea toy storage systems for quick toy cleanup. My husband and I share a calendar to keep track of the kids’ appointments and other events (nice because we get notifications letting us know of things added or edited by the other without having to text or chat). Venmo app to pay friends or sitters easily. Can you tell I love my apps and to have things delivered?” — Marie M.

28. “We keep a camera monitor in her room and the living room so I can check on her from my phone. She has seizures. I was running to her room whenever I heard a strange noise. If I’m not sure she’s having a seizure, I can look at the phone camera monitor. Also, I’ve learned the hard way that you really need some time for yourself — or you might get burned out or depressed. I have a friend, and also a government worker, who comes over occasionally so I can get a massage or take a walk or run errands. A break will bring you back refreshed.” — Susan C.

29. “For the kids’ beds I lay down a waterproof cover, a fitted sheet, another waterproof cover, another fitted sheet. This made night time accidents so much easier to handle versus changing the entire bed again in the middle of the night.” — Marie M.

30. “Clothes get laid out the night before, different bags for different activities (dance/swim/gym etc.). The stuff just gets washed then replaced in the appropriate bag. Pre-cook a batch of meals. Bulk buy household items on Amazon Prime. Medications ordered in a double batch, so only needs to be done every two months, then decanted into a smaller weekly bottle which sits in same place on kitchen table so doses never go forgotten. Calendar is split into four sections: one for daughter’s school and one for her therapies; the other two are for me, one for work and one for personal. There’s a toothbrush for my daughter in each bathroom so we rarely forget. Cleaning supplies are also kept in each bathroom.” — LJ M.

31. “I try to prep as much as I can the night before. Pre-draw meds, make up a batch of thickened water, prep morning feed, lay out clothes, etc. It makes a huge difference in our morning.” — Shelby H.

32. “If we have to cancel a therapy appointment to create balance for our family as a whole, we refuse to harbor guilt about it. On a more practical level, we purchased a quality camping air mattress for my husband and me. It’s easily tucked away/stored in their bedroom during the day and pulled out as needed for the nights our twins struggle to sleep. It’s been one of our goals, from early on, for them to sleep in their own beds. Having an air mattress gives us a comfortable place to sleep on the ‘rough nights’ and ensures that we keep focused on the goal.” — Bethany G.

33. “We use the washable ‘pink pads’ [for beds].” — Denise H.

34. “Google Calendar for each family member, a cleaning lady, and grocery delivery (all previously mentioned), but very helpful to this working (outside the home) mom.” — Jessica L.

35. “I painted a big chalkboard calendar on the main wall in our kitchen area. It helps keep everyone (my family, babysitter, grandparents) up to date on appointments, etc. I have a laminator and laminate visual schedules, visual cards and visual reward puzzles to have on hand. I always have my kids bags packed and ready to go with essentials (change of clothes, snacks, water, toy, pullups etc). Each kid has a drawer in the kitchen for bowls and cups, same in bathroom for toothbrushes, etc. We turned my daughter’s bedroom door into a Dutch door to serve as a better safety gate at night.” — Shannon B.

36. “Mom Night Outs. It’s good to be around other moms who can relate and are more understanding. So much info to share together, too.” — Erin S.

37. “Elastic waist jeans so he can be more independent getting dressed and using the bathroom. (Downs Designs and/or NBZ jeans are both great).” — Rachel S.

38. “Shop in bulk usually once a month. Cook in bulk when I have extra weekend (usually can get one to two months of meals, bake and store everything in anchor glassware, can go straight to oven or microwave and everything is labeled with label maker, they have various sizes so I have grab and go breakfast, dinner etc.). Labeled, color coded school year schedule at a glance with all therapist and family contact info, when schedule time comes round, I send out a draft version with our requests to all providers. We schedule everything, work out time, date nights, down time etc, hubby and I have a usual weekly schedule that ensures everyone in the family gets needs met.” — Elizabeth F.

39. “We use SHIPT, a grocery delivery service. Game changer. I prep a lot of things ahead of time (meds, meals, school stuff). And I have a ‘sister’ who I lean on who also has a son with the same condition. She gets me, understands the intricacies of living this life, and we support each other; [she] has been the best ‘hack.’” — Heather T.

40. “Color code everything. Each of my kids have a color. Their cups, towels and toothbrushes are all color coded. Even their chargers are marked with color coded dots.” — Elisabeth M.

As a side note, my friend Erin and I did a podcast on life hacks for parents of kids with disabilities; you might find some of the ideas we shared helpful as well.

What life hacks help you? Let us know in the comments.

Originally published: April 25, 2018
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