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Tips for managing your child’s support schedule

A smiling child with disability sits in a car with her parents.

Are you run ragged on the appointment treadmill and exhausted from juggling your diary to fit in with your child’s seemingly endless schedule of therapy sessions? Do ever feel like you just want to jump off and rest?

If you’re managing a schedule of supports for your child, you probably already know how swiftly those appointments can take over your days – and leave little time for everything else!

It’s easy to think you need to pack the week with sessions designed to support your child’s development – and spend their hard-fought-for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding before they lose it.

But for all of us, and particularly for kids, unstructured time is key to recharging our batteries and exploring the world of fun and socialisation. After all, no human is built to work 24/7, and having time to play is vital to all of us!

So, how do you establish and maintain a schedule of supports that’s more balanced with life outside of disability? We’ve got some tips to help you on your way.

#1. Create a weekly or monthly view of appointments

Sit down with a calendar (or a large piece of paper) and note all upcoming therapy appointments and other commitments – like social events. When you do this, it creates a visual picture of the week or month ahead.

If the appointments, in combination with other activities, make it look like you’ve got too much going on, you probably have! Consider rescheduling one or two appointments or commitments to make your schedule more manageable. Alternatively, you might see space to make an extra appointment – and if so, that’s brilliant.

Creating a weekly or monthly view of what’s going on also has benefits for children. If placed on a fridge or wall at your child’s eye level, a calendar can act as a visual prompt, so they know exactly what’s coming up for them.

You’ll be able to chat to your child about their therapy program, providers and sessions – and in turn, this will help you to gauge how they’re feeling about themselves, their therapists and their progress.

Think about asking them (and yourself) whether they’re happy with the program, if they feel it’s benefitting them, whether they like their therapist, and what progress they’re seeing.

In amongst the planning and discussion, don’t forget to schedule in breaks and activities that allow your child and you to relax and have fun too. While kids often tell us they enjoy their therapy sessions, seeing play time and outings on the planner can also help with motivating them.

#2. Schedule appointments at the same time and on the same day

When you set appointments at the same time and on the same day – whether they’re weekly, fortnightly or monthly – it creates a schedule that’s more predictable and easier to manage, because you and your child know what’s coming next.

When kids know they’ll be seeing their physiotherapist at 9am each Wednesday, and their occupational therapist on alternate Monday afternoons, they soon learn the routine, and they become familiar with the days that remain available for free time (me time) too!

#3. Space out appointments

You might want to think about spacing out your child’s schedule to create frequent breaks for them to down tools and relax – and this will help to conserve their NDIS dollars as well.

Many allied health professionals work in cycles of three months on and three months off, or thereabouts, a strategy that allows the clients they work with to put what they’ve learnt into practice before launching into the next stage of therapy.

In a discussion with My Plan Manager, Dino Mennillo – an occupational therapist and the Director of OTFC Group – stressed the importance of therapy breaks.

“We might see a young person for 10 to 12 weeks and then we take a three to six-month break. Then they might come back for another block,” said Dino.

“Instead of having ongoing occupational therapy for 52 weeks of the year, it’s 20 to 24 weeks – but half the time doesn’t mean half the progress. I’ve found that non-therapy time is really important for progress as well.

“We’re hopeful that not only has that child been able to improve their own skills and take on things at home at their own pace, but they can push their own boundaries a bit and become their own ‘therapist’.

“Parents are also better equipped to understand how to support their children – knowing when their child is most open to play, and how to use items they might already have at home to learn through play.”

We’ve also heard from parents who choose to schedule intensive blocks of therapy during school holidays, when their kids can attend several appointments in a shorter timeframe. The premise is that they learn by repetition – but at a time when the child isn’t also faced with school-based demands.

#4. See what can be done in your child’s learning environment

If your child sees an allied health professional, ask what can be done outside of the therapy space to support continued development.

There are strategies that can be implemented by day care programs, early learning centres, kindergartens and schools, so be sure to talk to the educators in your child’s life to find out how they can get involved.

Educational environments are naturally conducive to learning and the therapists supporting your child can work with their educators to put in place strategies designed to progress their development.

#5. Consider mobile clinicians to cut down travel time

If your child’s NDIS budget allows for it, you can also look for mobile clinicians who provide therapeutic support at home – cutting down the time you spend in the car.

The key benefit of in-home therapy is that it’s delivered in your child’s natural environment, which is likely to put them at ease and allow them to see how the activities they undertake can be part of everyday life – but there’s a lot to be said for an allied health professional who’s willing and able to save you from travelling too!

Typically, they’ll charge travel time, so make sure there’s enough funding available (and the right kind of funding) to allow for it. You can find out more here and you can also give us a call to discuss how to get the most from your child’s NDIS funding.

As an alternative, some clinicians offer telehealth appointments, which you and your child can attend remotely to save time on commuting.

While it might not be an ‘every appointment’ option, if there’s a week where your child is at capacity or simply exhausted, you could ask their therapist to conduct the session online – or instead to deliver it as a parent appointment by phone or online to talk about goals, progress and strategies.

Recognising when your child has hit their limit and acting on it by giving them time to rest and re-set can help to avoid burnout.

#6. Break tasks down and add variety

A reasonable attention span for a child is two to three minutes per year of their age. But if they perceive a task to be too difficult, they can zone out even quicker. That’s why it’s good to break tasks into bite-sized steps and shorter time blocks – and add variety to spice them up.

Ask the clinicians supporting your child what sort of variety they can build into their therapy programs and find out what approach they take to creating breaks from physical and/or cognitive activities to mix things up.

#7. Consider seeing clinicians from the same practice

Seeing providers who work at a multidisciplinary practice with a team of clinicians under one roof can save time and money, because they can collaborate and develop strategies to ensure your child receives complementary supports.

Case management helps to set up therapies in a time and cost efficient manner by identifying at the outset everything a client requires, and then developing a holistic program of supports.

Having a one-stop-shop of providers under one roof – like speech pathologists, occupational therapists and positive behavioural support practitioners – also allows them to share information about your child, meaning you don’t have to keep repeating your family’s story, and the providers involved all have access to the same insights.

It also helps to lessen the pressure on your child’s schedule.

#8. Work with the right providers

It’s important to find the right expertise to get the outcomes you want. The right provider can make a huge difference to your child’s NDIS journey.

Finding a provider who gets your child, their needs and abilities means they’ll be better able to schedule sessions that deliver the outcomes your child is striving for and that align with the needs of your child and your family from a diary perspective.

We created this checklist to help you engage the right providers and save time, stress and distraction from your child’s NDIS goals.

#9. Understand what providers can and can’t charge

NDIS providers can charge a raft of different costs, like weekend and public holiday rates, and fees for things such as travel, assessments and report writing.

It’s good to be aware of extra fees and charges so you can better manage your budget, minimise unwanted costs, and save time and work contacting providers to understand why they charged you extra.

To understand these costs up front, we recommend putting in place a service agreement with every provider and asking them to highlight what extras they charge. You can find out more about service agreements here.

Once you know what your budget covers and how many sessions it allows your child to attend with their therapist, you can take a look at your weekly or monthly calendar and block out the time needed for regular consultations.

Another cost to be aware of is cancellation fees. At My Plan Manager, we look at thousands of invoices every week and we see how common cancellation fees are. Here’s a few tips to help you keep them to a minimum.

#10. Upskill formal and informal supports

An often-missing piece of the therapy puzzle for a lot of participants relates to upskilling their support workers and families so they can help to put activities from therapy programs in place as part of daily life.

Doing this for your child can help them to develop new skills and cement those they’ve worked on – and grow their capacity and independence. It can also help to free up time in their schedule by swapping some of their therapy appointments for down time.

Don’t forget to ask your child’s allied health professionals for ‘homework’ for you, your child, and the whole family.

11. Leverage your existing network

Supportive groups of likeminded people can be an incredible source of knowledge and power – places where you can swap information with people who’ve had similar experiences to you.

That’s the power of community – tapping into collective knowledge – and it’s what Kinora is built upon.

Why not ask others in Kinora’s online community how they manage their child’s support schedules? You just might learn a thing or two – or help another frazzled parent out!

Find out more about Kinora here.

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My Plan Manager acknowledges the objectives of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

My Plan Manager acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia, and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures, and to Elders both past and present.
© My Plan Manager 2020
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