There are few words in our language that will automatically solicit a smile from the majority of people. Birthdays are memorable and joyous occassions full of celebration with loved ones. It is a day to honour the past, enjoy the present and dream about the future. Birthdays help mark significant milestones. The first birthday celebrates the successful survival of the parents who have managed multiple night wakings, endless feedings, first smiles and first steps. The fifth birthday sees a toddler becoming a young boy or girl with growing independence especially as they get ready to head off to school. The 21st birthday is another milestone. For the parents of a special needs child, this milestone contains much joy but it also brings to the forefront questions about the future. At 21, the public education of the special needs child is finished. Thus, the following questions arise. What will my special needs child do with their time now that their schooling is finished? Will my special needs child be able to find a job? Will my special needs child be able to live on his or her own? What kinds of resources, public or private, are available for my special needs chid?
Hopefully, as a special needs parent, these questions are not being asked for the first time at the 21st birthday. Like all special needs programs, public or private, there are long waiting lists and one wants to be sure find the best fit for their child. Moreover, it is important to dream of the possibilities when your child is younger so your child can work towards the dream. So as a special needs parent what do I need to know about the services offered after 21 years of age and what should I consider as I begin planning?
1) Depending on your child's code, your child may be entitled to a public education until 21 years of age or they may be entitled to services in higher education. This is why it is important to know what educational code your child has been given and to have it re-evaluated at the beginning of high school. A parent will need to fight the system in order to get the educational code re-evaluated but the proper educational code opens up educational options. Both Vanier College and McGill have offices for students with disabilities but appropriate documentation is needed. Peter Hall School, Summit School and Giant Steps all have programs up to 21 years of age. In the public sector, John Grant High School offers a valuable Pre-Work Program and Job Orientation Program which ends at 21 years of age.
2) Plan financially by knowing the tax credits and saving plans your federal and provincial governments provide. You can get federal tax credits up to 10 years previous. If your child cannot use the RESP you set up, you can roll it into your RRSP. With the proper paperwork, you can set up a RDSP which has a great rate attached to it. Two great resources in Montreal for assisting with financial planning for a special needs child are the Disability Financial Assistance Corporation and Nathan Liebowitz of Assante Wealth Management.
3) Be in regular contact with your CLSC, social worker and readapatation centre. Even if you don't think you will need their help at the moment, these government agencies have a variety of day and work programs at their disposal. If they are aware of your situation they can put you on the appropriate wait lists for day and work programs appropriate for your special needs child. If you were to wait until your child was 21 years old to touch base with your government services, you would end up with wait time of another year or two.
4) Begin researching educational options and/or day programs when your child is about 15 years old. Although limited there are programs available for adults with disabilities. They range from services to help persons with disabilities with job searches to day/work programs. There are assisted living programs and respite centres. Our local school boards offer a variety of vocational programs and adult education programs.
Have DREAMS for your special needs child! As you contemplate these dreams, turn them into reality by looking to the future and planning as much as posible in the present.
To many more happy birthdays!