Our society has come a long way in terms of resources for children with special needs and their parents. There are some really great facilities that specialize in therapies for kids with special needs, daycares for disabled children, and school programs tailored to fit their learning style and specific requirements. If your special needs child has recently become an adult or is approaching adulthood, you may be wondering, “Now what?”
Here are 10 things you may want to consider as your child ages out of the special education services and therapies available to special needs children:
1. Who will care for your adult special needs child when you are no longer able to?
It’s a reality that no one wants to think about. Once you are gone, who will be there to take care of your child and help them with their daily activities? This is something that, no matter how difficult it is to consider, you may want to begin looking into now. It can be very overwhelming, but you are not on your own. There are resources out there to help you and to provide services to your child such as companion services, home and community services, behavior support, and more.
When a child turns 18, they are considered a legal adult and are presumed able to make their own decisions and manage the different aspects of their life. If your child’s disability prevents them from being sufficiently able to do so, you may petition the court to be appointed legal guardian of your child or obtain a medical power of attorney so that you can access and aid them with things like financial management and medical care decisions.
Medical costs and additional services for special needs children and adults are costly. If your child is able to live independently, they will need to a find a job to support themselves. Even if they do not live on their own, many adults with special needs can find a job that they are good at and that they enjoy in order to bring in some income and have opportunities to interact with other people in the real world. There are many jobs that a special needs teenager or adult can excel at, depending on their specific disability and interests. If your child is incapable of handling money and managing their finances, you may consider setting up a special needs trust or another system that will allow you or someone else to help make financial decisions.
Assisted living facilities can be a wonderful resource to allow your child to move out of the home but continue to receive the support and assistance they need. There are resources available to help adults with disabilities lead meaningful lives by providing housing, jobs, and other services.
5. Medical Decisions
Parents of children with special needs spend a lot of time taking their child to doctor appointments and hospitals, researching and learning about their conditions, and making medical decisions on their child’s behalf. Once the child reaches the age of 18, they are legally an adult but may still require assistance with travel, attending appointments, and making decisions related to their medical care.
The therapies and interventions that your child may have received as they were growing up and developing may differ from their current needs as an adult. Consider what services are available for special needs adults and, possibly along with your child’s physician or medical team, decide what they could benefit from. Services like one-on-one behavior support can help your child continue to learn and enhance his or her life.
Many adults with special needs can have meaningful relationships and get married. As with any type of relationship, you want to be cautious and help your child approach things carefully. Both children and adults with special needs can sometimes be too trusting and may naively believe that someone has their best interest at heart, which may not always be the case. You may be able to suggest chaperoned dates or double dates as your adult child is getting to know someone.
If your child’s disability inhibits them from being able to drive, you may need to help them figure out alternative means of transportation to and from jobs, social activities, and medical appointments. If your child is able to travel alone and is seeking more independence, teaching them to use public transportation might be helpful. There are also available services that provide transportation for medical appointments, or you can find a local supported living services provider that offers support to help the individual find the resources they need.
9. How much help does my adult special needs child still require?
As parents, our job is to care for our children and it can be difficult to know when to back off or let them assert more independence, especially when it comes to children with special needs. Consider what types of daily tasks your adult child requires help with and what their competency level is. This can help you to make decisions about what sort of assistance your child needs now that they are an adult. If they are able to live alone, there are services that can help with household maintenance, transportation, obtaining employment, behavior support, and more.
10. Interaction in the Community
If your child has been attending school and/or school programs, they are accustomed to being around others and learning to interact with people around them. Once they become an adult and age out of the public school system, it can become more challenging to find opportunities for them to continue to engage with their community. Even if your child is unable to work, encouraging involvement in church activities, volunteerism, and other social situations can be important.
Keep in mind that this is new territory for both of you, as your child is entering a new phase of life. When possible, include your child in discussions and decision making and together try to figure out what is best in each situation. Above all, do not hesitate to reach out to the resources that are available for support and services.