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The Planner Guide Review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright

Jane Burke, Chantal Charron, and Bob Steinkamp
The Planner, LLC
PO Box 334
Williamston, MI 48895

My husband and I have adopted three beautiful children with Down syndrome (now 9, 6 and 5 years old), which is why I was curious about The Planner Guide! Jane Burke, Chantal Charron and Bob Steinkamp have many combined years of experience working with individuals with disabilities, such as autism and developmental and learning disabilities. They joined forces to create a planner that individuals with special needs could use to accomplish many goals independently, with clear guidelines that the user can understand and follow. One of the hardest things for young adults with disabilities is the sheer number of things that are challenging to do without help. Imagine being 25 years old and not able to remember the steps to get a prescription filled, or buy groceries, or leave a tip in a restaurant, or call a friend. The Planner Guide ($129.95) was designed to help users learn and work through the steps for a wide range of everyday skills as independently as possible. Sometimes a simple checklist is all that is needed for an individual to be able to complete a skill on his own!

The Planner Guide contains 141 Reference Guides (more about these in a moment) divided into nine sections, such as Home, School, Communication, Relationships and Information. Fifty-six of the Reference Guides are also printed as Wallet Cards that fit in the enclosed holder for the individual to keep handy. All of the Reference Guides and Wallet Cards are printed on heavy cardstock and are laminated, making them sturdy enough to last for years. Enclosed instructions suggest using permanent markers to write on the sheets as needed, noting that the markings won't rub off but can be removed with fingernail polish remover. I tried this trick and found that it worked well. The Planner Guide comes in a durable 3-ring binder with a document pouch at the back, making it easy to organize and easy to keep close at hand. There is also a separate calendar with 1600 stickers to serve as reminders of daily activities, such as paying bills, getting a haircut, going to the dentist or doctor, etc.

The heart of this program is the Reference Guides, which cover an impressive variety of daily activities and information. These were made using an excellent program called Boardmaker, which was designed to visually present important information to individuals with disabilities. For example, the first Reference Guide in the book has the title "This Planner Belongs to:" and then pictures and words for the different categories: Name, Address, Home Phone, Cell Phone, and E-mail. Another Reference Guide under the Personal section, starts with the title "When I am Upset I Might Feel . . .," and then it has six pictures (with the words below) for "my heart pounding," "hot and sweaty," "I need to yell," etc. There are also six open boxes for the user to personalize the guide, and there is a red star at the bottom of the page referring the user to the "My Calming Page" for more information. All of the guides are pictorially based, with appropriate text and lots of places to fill in information or personalize as needed. Some of my favorites out of the 141 cards are the topics: Polite Asking, What to Do If I Need Help or Have a Question, Solving a Conflict, Shopping and Purchasing in a Store, Medical Appointments, Strangers, Turn Taking in Conversation, and Solving a Problem. Each guide walks the individual through the process step-by-step. Some are very simple, while others involve a number of steps and some decision trees. The idea is that the family can choose the Guides that would be most helpful for the individual, personalize those for his/her particular needs, and then keep them all in a handy notebook for easy accessibility. The Planner Guide, or the Wallet Cards, could be carried to work, the store, or wherever they would be useful. If the user forgets what to do in a particular situation, he has a quick "cheat sheet," if you will, to guide him through the process.

So what did we think of this handy tool? Overall, I think it would be extremely helpful for teenagers and adults with disabilities, particularly developmental disabilities or autism. Reading can be a difficult skill for these individuals, so using pictures and text to present information is very helpful. It is wonderful to have the work already done for you on so many different and important topics. We thought the breadth and depth of the information was very appropriate and would be very helpful! For families who have access to Boardmaker, Mayer-Johnson sells a Reference Guides for Life disc ( that contains the templates for the Reference Pages from The Planner Guide. This disc might be a great tool for families who want to adapt the templates to fit the unique needs of their particular child. Another simple option for any templates that need adjustments for your child's particular needs is to print pictures or text and tape it over the particular guide page, and then place in a sheet protector.

For many families who are homeschooling children or young adults with special needs, as we are, as much time needs to be spent on activities of daily living as on academic skills. Our children often struggle with skills that other children learn easily, like very basic cooking, relationship skills, and problem-solving skills. Many of us have created ways to help them learn these skills over time, but wouldn't it be nice to have some of that work already completed, tested and refined? In my opinion, The Planner Guide could be a tremendous tool for individuals with disabilities who desire to be independent but often struggle with daily activities. What a wonderful way for the family to help prepare the individual to live as independently and successfully as possible!

Product review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2009