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What To Do When Your Special Needs Child Completes High School

ClassroomPictPart I: The Path To Employment

As our children begin to enter into early adolescence, many of us begin to realize that many – if not all – of the services and programs that our child relies on for care will soon disappear and be replaced by radically different benefits.

Most of these new benefits abruptly come into play once our children leave the public education system. This may happen at any time between the ages of 18 and 23, depending on the state you live in and your child’s particular needs.

One of the most important aspects of this transition is securing employment services for our children. According to the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability, one-quarter of all adults with disabilities work at either a full- or part-time job.

Some of the remaining three-quarters are unable to work at all due to their disability; but a large number of disabled adults who aren’t employed don’t have a job because they lack the skills necessary for gainful employment. Several federal laws address this situation with the goal of providing vocational education to a wider segment of the population with disabilities.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that special education plans begin transition planning when a child turns 14. At this point, a written transition plan must be incorporated into a child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), outlining the steps a school will take to help a child with special needs acquire skills necessary for an eventual move into the workforce.

By the time the child turns 16, the special education team must steer the child towards development programs keyed towards the child’s individual vocational preferences. The law also mandates periodic measurement of the child’s progress to ensure that he receives attention from the proper vocational advocates.

Once your child reaches 18 and receives either Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments, the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers several programs to encourage your child to work. The best-known program, Ticket to Work, is a somewhat complicated program designed to offer beneficiaries a way to begin a career without having to worry about losing their SSI or SSDI benefits.

SSI beneficiaries, on the other hand, must conform to very strict income and asset limits. Often, beneficiaries who could hold a job do not pursue one because they are worried that they will lose their SSI benefits once they earn too much. While this is certainly a concern, the benefits of employment may outweigh the loss of SSI. Furthermore, the government provides specific incentives for SSI beneficiaries to work. For instance, if a person with disabilities is under 22 and at school or in a vocational training program, $1,780 of his monthly income does not count against his SSI benefit, up to a yearly limit of $7,180.

The Social Security Administration also offers the PASS (Plan for Achieving Self Support) program for SSI beneficiaries who would like to work. Under this program, a beneficiary presents the SSA with a detailed plan for obtaining a specific type of employment. Once the SSA approves the plan, a beneficiary sets aside income and assets towards achieving her goal without having those funds count against her benefit. Funds can be used for things like childcare, transportation, books and supplies, and additional education and training.

Many programs are available for people with special needs to seek employment if they would like to do so. Unfortunately, the rules for most of these programs are complicated and the SSA is often not very good at explaining them.

Beginning to plan well before your child completes high school – with the assistance of local vocational agencies and qualified special needs planners – is your best chance for successfully navigating the maze of educational opportunities for your child.

 

 

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