Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Please Don't Pitch Those Records!

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Please Don't Pitch Those Records!

Article excerpt

The season for filling out tax returns and gearing up for spring cleaning arrived. Your local newspaper has published a chart showing how long tax records should be kept and you are ready to pitch those messy boxes of older medical and school records. Hold on.

Parents of a child with special needs--or individuals who themselves had special needs as children--should not assume that old records have no value. Indeed, old records may be absolutely essential to establish eligibility for the many public benefit programs that require proof that a person had a disability prior to reaching the age of 22. Consider carefully which records to place in the recycle bin and which records to maintain and re-label. Counterintuitive as it may seem, hoarding paperwork is a good idea.

Even if eligibility for government benefits or other programs is not a concern at this time (whether because the disabilities seem mild or the finances sound), some records may be critically important in the future. The guiding principle of your record retention strategy should be "Hope for the best, but plan for the worst." Although all individuals, including children with special needs, should be encouraged to maximize their potential, some may never be fully self-supporting as adults. They may have to rely, at least in part, on public benefit programs to meet their basic food, shelter, and healthcare needs.

WHAT RECORDS TO KEEP AND WHY

An adult with a disability may qualify for certain benefits and government programs if he or she can establish that the onset of the disability (when the first manifestations or symptoms appeared, or when treatment was first sought, even if not officially diagnosed until later) occurred during the developmental years, prior to reaching age 22. Many types of documentation are difficult, if not impossible, to recover or re-create if destroyed or lost. Without good records, it can become much more challenging to establish the onset of a potentially disabling condition or impairments resulting from an accident or injury.

As noted earlier, many public benefit programs require proof that a person had a disability prior to reaching the age of 22. Some programs for school-age children are more generous and less rigid in their eligibility guidelines than those for adults. Therefore, it is not safe to assume that he or she will automatically qualify for benefits and services as an adult simply because, as a child, he or she had a learning disability, received developmental disability board services, or participated in special education programs. In addition, a person might need documentation of a disabling condition to acquire appropriate accommodations in vocational training or college, which may one day lead to a career or the fulfillment of educational goals. Others may need to document when a childhood condition was originally discovered because a recurrence or exacerbation in adulthood could put substantial gainful employment on hold and qualifying for various benefits might become necessary.

These are some of the most important documents that might be useful throughout a person's lifetime:

* Individual education plans (IEPs), multi-factored evaluations (MFEs), 504 plans, and any recommendations for accommodations

* Results of medical exams, particularly by specialists such as neurologists and psychologists

* lf there was an acute illness, accident, or trauma that resulted in permanent changes in the individual's cognitive skills or physical abilities, records which show levels of functioning prior to the incident (IQ tests, grades, educational achievements, skills) as well as records showing the severity of the illness or injuries sustained and functional level after recovery

* Documentation that the individual received services from agencies that focus on individuals with special needs or disabilities

* Records from job training programs, sheltered, subsidized or supported employment, including workshop employment

* Letters from coaches, camp counselors, neighbors, religious or community leaders- anyone not related by blood or marriage (i. …

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