Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Preparing a Child with Special Needs for College

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Preparing a Child with Special Needs for College

Article excerpt

Sharpen those pencils. Open those books. It's the beginning of a new school season, and for some, the start of college life.

For families with a child who has special needs, preparing for college, finding the right school, and funding the cost can be tricky, especially if government benefits are part of the financial picture. But if parents do their homework, sending a child off to college can be a little less frightful and a lot more exciting.

It begins long before campus move-in day

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) (1) places a legal responsibility on your public school district to provide a free education to children age 3 through 21 who have disabilities by providing special education and services to them. Additionally, the schools must develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for children with special needs, which sets goals for educational achievement and a strategy for reaching them. Bret Hortin, a Special Care Planner with Bret Hortin Financial Services (2), a part of Intermountain Financial Group, LLC which is a General Agency of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) in Salt Lake City, Utah, urges his clients and other parents of children with special needs to get and stay involved in their children's educations. "It's your responsibility to be an advocate for your child to ensure he or she receives the best education available. You need to prepare before pre-school begins, and continue your efforts through college. Even if your child doesn't attend college, there may be programs, such as one that teaches life-skill classes at a community college, available until your child reaches age 22."

Because colleges consider students to be adults able to make their own decisions, parents generally won't have a voice with college administrators. Therefore, you'll have to work with your child to make sure the programs and services available to him or her are being utilized.

The goal is to do all you can to help your children become as self-sufficient as possible and to contribute as best they can to their own lives and to society.

Before high school ends

Relieve some anxiety about sending your child off to live at school by instilling good life management skills. Teach them how to manage personal finances, such as using and balancing a checking account, using an ATM and debit card, understanding credit cards--and how spending with plastic can easily get out of control knowing how their actions will affect their credit report and why it's important to have a good credit record, and how to put money away in a savings account. "With these basic lessons learned," says Hortin, "you'll be more confident that your child will have responsible saving and spending habits and will make smart decisions regarding daily money matters."

Other skills are valuable, too, such as shopping, cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. Your child may, at some point, share an apartment with other students, and it'll be reassuring to know he or she can pick out fresh produce, cook more than instant microwave food, and clean the fridge when leftovers become unidentifiable.

Financial strategies for college expenses

When families decide they must think about saving for college, they aren't going to fully benefit from their strategy if they haven't taken into consideration their complete financial picture. "I can help families use discretionary income along with insurance and investment products to develop a strategy that's affordable and focuses on helping them achieve their goals," explains Hortin. "If they already have some things in place, like life insurance, a retirement plan, and a will, but nothing for college saving, together we'll look at everything to see what changes and additions might be needed for the new strategy. It's how to make your money work its hardest for you."

Hortin says there are a number of college-saving options. …

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