Your Child Is Growing Up. Planning for Adulthood When your Child has Special Needs.

As a parent or guardian of a child with special needs, you’ve meticulously planned and provided for your child’s educational and care needs.  Then, one day, it hits you. All too quickly your child is a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. What does life look like as your child enters those adult years? The answer will depend heavily on how you and your child plan for that future. Transition planning for life after school takes careful thought and depends heavily on your child’s strengths and goals. The sooner you and your child start envisioning that future, and the path for it becoming a reality, the better you both will sleep at night. If your child has an IEP (Individualized Education Program or Plan), the public school system likely has served as a major coordination hub connecting you both with essential resources.. Recognizing that the supports provided through school will shift significantly as your child “ages out” of the public school system, Federal law requires the IEP to include transition planning as soon as the student reaches the age of 16. That said, there is no reason your family cannot begin  the planning process with a child much earlier. Understanding your child’s wishes and the supports available to maximum independence and life options will be central to the ultimate success of any plan. A transition plan should have several goals.  First, the plan should consider the life your child likely will have as an adult. Will your child be able to work and have a career? Will additional education be needed? What resources will your child need to successfully compete for a job or potentially be supported in an employment setting?  What about a living situation? Will your child live with you or will independent living be a central or future goal of the transition plan? Evaluating whether living independently is a viable option will require determining to what degree your child becomes  capable of performing certain fundamental self-support functions such as cooking, using public transportation, and managing money. Even if living independently, will your child benefit from residential services offered through a government assistance program, and is there currently a wait time for such services? A second goal of a transition plan is to consider whether your child will have the capacity to make decisions about his or her own medical care, education, and finances. Once your child reaches the age of majority (18 in most states), he or she automatically will be considered an adult with both the right and authority to control these decisions. Before that happens, you’ll should assess the need to make alternate arrangements in the form of a power of attorney document (if your child has sufficient capacity to appreciate the planning document) or perhaps legal guardianship will be necessary. After years of care and protection, one of the most difficult challenges ahead might be supporting your child in embracing and exercising some level of independence as they enter What course you decide to pursue will take careful thought and exploration of all alternatives, including supported decision making (if available in your state) in lieu of full guardianship. Third, you’ll need to re-evaluate your child’s public benefits picture. As an adult, your child may qualify for means-tested public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, as the determination will be based on the child’s income alone. If you have not established a Special Needs Trust (SNT) to provide for your child upon your death without affecting financial eligibility for essential public benefits that may be available, this is the perfect time to do so. Working with your child to plan for transition from public school supports into adulthood will be one of the most important things you do as a parent or guardian. Don’t go it alone. Your child’s school and other community resources can help you chart a path forward with meaningful, attainable goals to make the transition to adulthood and out of the school system a successful one. When it comes to the broad range of legal and financial questions to be considered when devising the best plan for your child’s life as an adult, consulting an attorney experienced in special needs planning is another valuable tool.