Financial Help for Special Needs Children
The diagnosis of your child by your pediatrician as being
"special needs" can cause a myriad of emotions for parents. Among
those feelings, one of the many issues a parent is overwhelmed with
is how they are going to help their child without depleting their
"Most parents of special needs children know they need help - but
they either don't know where to turn, or time and money pressures
leave them paralyzed into inaction," says Joseph D. Blair, senior
vice president and senior financial adviser at Univest Bank and
Trust Co, who has made it his personal mission to provide parents
of special needs children with the information they need to make
wise financial decisions.
In many cases, the first conversations about assistance occur in
the pediatrician's office. Depending on the age of the child and
the type of disability, the doctor may refer the family to
specialists or to schools, who may in turn provide guidance as to
how to start the journey for funding.
It is important to note, according to Blair, that the road to
finding assistance can seem long and winding, filled with potholes.
Also, it does not end in childhood. Some of the greatest challenges
face the families of adults with special needs (e.g., parents who
want care for their adult child after they have passed on).
Although attorneys and financial advisors may seem as if they
would have helpful information, few professionals have the
expertise in special needs to give helpful guidance. For example,
the professionals who advise families with special needs children
must pay close attention to how they use public and non-public
"A well-intentioned broker, insurance agent or even lawyer may use
the wrong words in creating a special needs trust and cause great
hardship to a family with special needs," Blair says. "Even an
attorney who says he practices in special needs may not stay
current with the field. The answer: find advisors you can trust who
know the unique challenges of special needs."
Blair explains, "Although we have many excellent administrative
people in the schools, counties, state agencies and Social
Security, they cannot provide a single roadmap to guide the parent
for several reasons:
- Every case has its own unique characteristics.
- Each child's specific symptoms do not always fit well with the
general terms of the administrative rules and regulations.
- The time required to make an accurate diagnosis can range from
weeks to years depending on the tests needed and the waiting
periods for various procedures.
- Social Security Administration and state divisions of public
welfare regulations are constantly evolving as policies change or
funding goes up or down.
- Some forms of financial assistance address symptoms or
behaviors; others address causes or diagnoses. Unless parents know
which method the source of financial assistance uses, valuable time
can be lost in the application process.
- Disabilities or behaviors often appear over time, not at the
first diagnosis (Example: an autistic child may develop new
symptoms years after the first diagnosis)."
Blair says that there are a lot of sources of information for
parents including schools, support groups, other parents and online
resources, to name a few, but these sources vary greatly in terms
of accuracy of information and how complete their information
He stresses a key point: "a parent should persevere in seeking
assistance even if a particular administrator or advisor cannot
help with a specific request. In most cases, someone has found the
answer before you."
So that we are all on the same page regarding what "special needs"
is, Blair finds a simplistic way to define it is to draw a contrast
between "special needs" children and "typical" children -- the
special needs children require additional services beyond those
given to typical kids. For example, within the educational system,
special needs children may have IEP's, or Individualized Education
Programs. Some children may continue in the mainstream classes with
IEP's, while others may require separate schools to reach their
"As a financial professional, I believe quite passionately in the
importance of a plan to guide decisions about funding, insurance
and other questions. I have seen many cases where a financial plan
lowers the anxiety of parents about caring for a child in the
future. Some plans are no more than sales tools. It is important to
obtain professional help with a plan from someone who is not
motivated primarily by selling an annuity or an insurance policy,"
Some other important information Blair wants to share, both as the
parent of a special needs child himself, as well as a financial
professional, is that "early diagnosis and treatment are imperative
for better results."
With autism, for example, experts say that we can make a huge
difference if we start intensive therapy between 18 months and
three years of age. In some cases, a definitive diagnosis is not
available until well past the third birthday. This puts great
pressure on our pediatricians and strains the resources of our
specialized facilities. The medical profession is making advances
in this area, however. The main point for parents is this: early
diagnosis is critical.
For further information, you can reach Mr. Blair at 215-721-8386
or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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