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Special Needs – One Term, Many Facets

Posted on: July 18th, 2017
The Community Link, a newspaper serving eastern Ventura County, published "Special Needs - One Term, Many Facets," in the May 2017 issue. The article is published in its entirety below, or see The Community Link - page 6. 

Special Needs - One Term, Many Facets

By Terri Hilliard

The designation “special needs” brings with it a wide range of abilities and diagnoses that can include everything from Autism to Down Syndrome, blindness to ADHD, speech or eating disorders to hearing impairment, and epilepsy to cognitive disabilities, just to name a handful.  In California alone, there are well over a million children who have been diagnosed with such conditions or disorders and the numbers are increasing at a staggering rate.

The one thing they all have in common is that they identify a condition that calls for needed understanding, appropriate services, support and proper planning to help those affected, as well as their families.

In reality, each family with special needs children or adults will have different concerns, depending on the issues they face - medical, educational, behavioral, developmental, learning or mental health.  There are resources available that can provide the extra help needed, whether that’s tutoring, medicine, therapy, transportation or other support to make their lives easier and better.

Ultimately, the goal is to help those with problems become as independent as possible and enhance their quality of life. If you or someone you know has a special needs child, planning for the future is vital.  What would happen to the child if his or her caregiver was no longer around?  Who will take over?  Will housing be necessary?  How will the services be paid now and after the parents or caregivers are gone?

Studies have shown that 69 percent of parents of special needs children say they are concerned about providing lifetime care for these dependents, yet, 88 percent of the parents have not set up special needs trusts.  Over 80 percent have not written a Letter of Intent, outlining the future care of their children with special needs. More than 70 percent have not named a guardian to watch over their children should something happen to the parents.

More than half of the parents don’t even know where to start.  So, where do you turn?  Who can give you answers or direction?  For those living in Ventura County, there are a number of help and support groups available.  One such program is PAUSE4Kids in Thousand Oaks.  I am a proud member of the organization’s Board of Directors and see firsthand how important these kinds of resources can be to families looking for answers. 

Started in 1999 by Keri Bowers, mother of an autistic child, and other parents of special needs children, PAUSE4kids is as strong voice for special needs advocacy and education. They also “fill in the gaps” to help where needed, providing a monthly Educations Advocacy group for parents, as well as a generous scholarship program that can grant up to $500 in individual financial aid per child per year.  For details, go online and apply at scholarships@pause4kids.org.

One of the greatest problems in the future is finding housing and jobs for those with special needs, as they enter adulthood.  Like all young adults, these individuals require a sense of accomplishment, socialization, physical activity, and opportunities to grow and have a secure, dignified quality of life.  The focus must be on their strength and abilities and honor of their differences.  For the most part, such support and opportunities in reaching this goal are limited.  However, one such possible program to meet this need is Golden Heart Ranch in Agoura Hills. The focus is a place where adults with special needs can live and grow in dignity and with purpose.

With the basic infrastructure in place at the 22-acre Agoura Hills facility, and with a lot more work and support from the community, the plans are to introduce a number of programs to engage, teach and support the young adults staying at the Ranch and those participating in their day camps.  For more information on Golden Heart Ranch, go to www.goldenheartranch.org.    

These are just two examples of local help.  The main consideration is not to delay in seeking the needed guidance. If you would like to learn more about planning for the care of special needs children or adults, let’s discuss your options and necessary steps to protect you and yours.  Give us a call 805-201-2552 or e-mail thilliard@terrihilliard.com.  
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