Okay, so you have heard about all the documentation you need to prepare for your special needs child, you understand about establishing a trust, and you opened a 529 to save for their education, but now college is approaching. This can be stressful because you are nervous about having them attend school and you might be a little unsure about how they will do at a higher education institution, but we have some tips/areas to address from The Hechinger Report on preparing for your special needs child heading to college.
Since higher education is not a right, there is extra work you will want to do as a parent of a special needs child. Your child will still be required to hand in assignments on time and the curriculum will not be changed to accommodate them. So, learning life skills (sometimes referred to as soft skills), procuring support for them while they are in college, and completing other documentation are all keys to your child succeeding in college!
Skills: High school can be a very structured time for students with disabilities. Yet, the highly structured environment provided in high school can neglect to teach life skills. Self-advocacy, communication, organization and time management skills are ones you want to be sure your child learns. Find ways to have this incorporated into their time in high school and when they are at home, like with homework. Since students with disabilities process information differently, being able to self-advocate for instructions that are more specific is important, especially when they get into college. Being able not only to organize their own work but coordinating with others like creating a study group is another tool that should be learned. Life skills are easy to talk about with your children, but creating the environment and working with them to find an environment to practice them is also important. When they get to college, these life skills will greatly benefit them.
Since disabilities come in many forms, helping your child learn the specific tools that will help them the most is also critical. For a child with ADHD/ADD they might need to set time limits on tasks and change rooms while working on homework in order to stay focused. Helping your child determine what tools they need to learn will help them to succeed in higher education.
Support in School: When you and your child enter into the college search process, there are certain questions you will want to be asking, or more importantly, encouraging your child to be asking so they can practice self-advocacy. Schools typically have an academic support center, or some other support system, where students have access to tutors and mentors. Make sure that you ask about what support is offered and what kind of accommodations can be made. Once your child begins college, you will want to establish a relationship with your child’s mentor or the head of the center too so that you can create a strong support network for your child (in order to do this, if you do not have guardianship after they turn 18, you will need to get your child’s permission). Depending on the degree of your child’s disability, you may either be more involved or more in the periphery, but it still helps to have a connection.
Paperwork: Depending on your child’s level of disability, you will want to either pursue gaining guardianship past their 18th birthday, or you will want to establish durable power of attorney and a healthy care proxy so that way if something happens to your child while they are at school you will be able to make decisions for them. You will want to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who has experience with special needs planning to determine the best course of action for you and your child.
The other paper work that needs to be accomplished is properly documenting your child’s special needs. In order for accommodations to be given, they will need documentation. Whether this is documentation for accommodation by professors or documentation for taking the SAT and AP exams, talk with your child’s guidance counselor and with the academic support at the post-secondary school your child ultimately selects.
It is important to remember, that since disabilities are varied you will want to capitalize on resources to make sure you are helping your child thoroughly prepare for college. Guidance counselors, admissions counselors, college advisors, academic support centers, and estate planning attorneys are all great resources.
To learn more about this and other estate planning topics, visit our website to schedule your consultation today!
References: The Hechinger Report, November 11, 2017, “The Vast Majority of Students with Disabilities Don’t Get a College Degree”, and “10 Tips for Working with College-Bound Special-Needs Students”