Care Mapping: Sketch Your Resources

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Have you ever heard of care mapping? It is “a family-driven, person-centered process which highlights a family’s strengths and communicates both the big picture and the small details of all of the resources needed to support a child and their family” (Antonelli & Lind, 2018). I learned about care mapping in a fellowship training last fall and was immediately drawn to the colorful, visual way of capturing information.

A few months later, I joined my kids around the pile of colored pencils and sketched our care map. It started with us, right at the center. It branched out to include formal and informal relationships and resources. Of course, a lot of the circles related to my son’s needs, but I put myself on the map too. I defined “care” broadly to encompass overall wellness. I hope my daughter and husband will add their resources and relationships too.

Care map branching out from center with multiple colors

My rough care map. Aim for progress, not perfection.

Sketching the map felt like a gratitude practice. I recognized the almost-family relationships of support we enjoy and appreciated how a sense of community builds my resilience. I realized that our network of specialists and therapists has grown in recent years to the point that we, at least for now, have the right people in the mix for our needs. I also saw how each family member contributed his or her strengths to support one another.

The mapping process also helped me realize that, in an effort to be efficient and provide relevant information, I unconsciously filter details with each of the professionals we work with. What’s relevant to the occupational therapist versus the pediatrician versus the social/emotional coach/therapist? Do meltdowns and emotional reactivity fall into sensory or social/emotional category? Both? Or maybe they’re related to executive functioning. Which specialist deals with that anyway?

This filtering can be problematic. My assumptions about each person’s expertise might not include the full picture. My understanding of the numerous labels (i.e. motor planning, executive function, pragmatic language, etc.) are likely incomplete. I am pretty good at sleuthing out the root of my son’s struggles, but I often struggle with stress and fatigue. Connecting all the dots over time can be really challenging. I am hopeful that our care map can enable others to get a sense of our whole picture and improve communication and coordination.

Finally, I experienced recently that having the care map in my mind’s eye helped me handle the information overload that came with our educational evaluation process. After reviewing a 25-page evaluation documenting his strengths and challenges, I was losing sight of the child at the center of it all. My mind was drawn to the details, the terminology and measures. But envisioning the circle of my son and our family, I felt more confident naming my child’s struggles and strengths in terms of my day-to-day observations and the patterns his teacher and I had seen through the school year. I rooted down in my circle. My concrete comments generated input from our team that made sense to me and included examples of what was working and what could change in the next IEP.

I encourage you to grab some of the Crayons laying underfoot and get started. Remember, care mapping is a process you will revisit and change. Check out some of the ideas and resources below for more guidance. Don’t overthink it and, please, put your own resources on the map!!

Ideas as you sketch

  • Use a different color for each family member. Add multiple colored outlines around shared supports/resources
  • Add dotted lines to illustrate which circles work well with one-another (i.e. school and therapist). Recognize and celebrate the unique asset that these connections are!
  • Add a grey shadow around circles to represent past versions of a resource/support. For example, include a grey shadow a school or clinic your child no longer attends. This history is often the source of valuable learning and important relationships.
  • If you prefer, try a mind mapping app

Additional resources:

Check out care map creator and special needs parent, Cristin Lind’s website for her story and map.

See Boston Children’s Hospital’s research and PDF handouts for families and professionals.

Comment or email to let me know if you find a care map useful and how you use it –

Author: Beth

Beth is a wife, mother, researcher and connector. She has two elementary-aged kids, one who is differently wired with autism. Beth has done graduate work and consulting related to youth development and community engagement. She loves advocating for authentic community engagement and contributions of kids and families impacted by autism. She lives in Hopkins, MN.

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