By: Waverly Ann Harris 

Do you get satisfaction from checking off items on a checklist? Do you look forward to getting a new planner each year, or keep your schedule on your phone?  We all benefit from feeling in control of our time and our own scheduleIndividuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities also benefit from being in control of their own schedules. They deserve that opportunity, yet many have natural challenges with Executive Function, preventing them from creating this structure for themselves. Checklists and planners may help individuals who struggle with organization, decision-making, and staying on task to experience greater independence at home. 


Creating checklists and getting into the routine of using a planner takes intention and work on the front end. It  can mean added pressure and time for the caregiver, and it may not work the first few times. Therefore, it will require flexibility and adaptation for all parties to be sure it is set up in a way that works for everyone. 


The goal is to organize a space and the tools necessary for an individual to complete tasks as independently as possible. Design the tools around the person’s interests, preferences, and their Executive Function capacity. In order to get a true sense of what is working, you must be willing to be consistent with the process for several months before making any major changes. 


Checklists like THIS or THIS can be created with words or pictures LIKE THESE and can also be used with technology where the steps are automated and auditory. Be sure to place checklists where they are easy to see and access. Checklists should be kept in the space where they will be used and easily remembered.  See below for examples. 

  • Checklist for getting ready in the morning, may  be kept on a night stand, or framed on the wall in the bedroom or bathroom. Tip: Make it pretty and place it in a frame. A dry erase marker can be used on the glass or plastic of the frame. Example. 
  • Visual checklist for packing a lunch. Tip: Make it color coordinated to match colored bins in the pantry and/or fridge to help the individual match checklist to choices. 
  • Technology and apps can be helpful because they can go anywhere a person carries his/her phone. It can be helpful to use timers and alarms. It can also be used to encourage healthy habits, such as walking 5,000 steps each day, and will produce a data that is easy to track. Online calendars and checklists can be shared among family members, making it easier to update and communicate.  


 Planners allow a person to plan, organize, and know what to expect. They also keep a household informed and prompt others to follow a routine that supports an individual with different Executive Functioning skills. Individuals with IDD often thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. Abstract concepts are challenging and can promote fear. Therefore, having specifics written down and planned out can be very helpful and even soothing. On the contrary, deviation from those expectations can add stress and cause conflict. Be sure to have a consistent term for those changes, such as “Wild Card” for situations that come up and require flexibility and change. It is important that everyone builds adaptability skills, as we all know things will never work out exactly as we plan. 

Planners can be hand-held, on the wall, digital, or all the above. Be sure that planners are easily accessible and can be used to share information, particularly if the individual needs support in communicating the content on the planner.  

Note: Checklists and planners appeal to individuals who struggle with Executive Function because it helps them with organization and planning. It allows them to know what to expect and can ease the fear of the unknown. Though these tools help individuals thrive, it is also their Executive Function that makes it very difficult for them to create and maintain these tools. A person’s support system must be prepared to create and choose the tools with the individual and support them in maintaining the use of the tools for success.