When you have a special needs child, you are faced with a double financial whammy. Of course, there is the added expense for therapy, medication, counseling, tutoring, etc. These expenses alone can put a family into debt as they try to provide for their child. However, there’s another cost that is rarely discussed. Because caring for a special needs child can be time consuming, often one parent has to quit their job or reduce their hours to part-time. Now, there are not only added expenses, but a loss of income. How can one afford raising a child with special needs?
Thankfully, there is assistance available, if you know where to look.
Get a Diagnosis
The first thing you must do is get a diagnosis. For instance, if your child has autism, she likely can’t receive any therapy until she is officially diagnosed by a qualified professional.
You will need to talk to your pediatrician to see how to go about getting a diagnosis. There are a number of experts who diagnosis special needs children, depending on what special need you think your child has.
How to Afford Raising a Child with Special Needs
Once you have the diagnosis, you can begin to pursue therapy, if need be, and funding sources. There are a number of places you should look.
See What Your Insurance Covers
Once you have the diagnosis, the next step is to see what your insurance covers. All three of my children have special needs. While my husband’s insurance didn’t cover speech therapy (some insurances do, but ours didn’t), it did cover applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy for our children with autism.
Depending on the quality of your insurance, you may be surprised to find that it covers more than you would have expected.
Talk to Other Parents
If you’re in contact with other parents of special needs kids, make sure to talk to them. They can give you tips for where to find resources, whether they be federal or state aid or grants.
You can find other special needs parents at support groups and in places like Facebook groups. If you homeschool, you may find special needs parents in your homeschool groups because a surprising number of kids who are homeschooled have special needs.
The more people you can talk to the better because each parent has a different story and different places where they’re getting help and support.
Apply for Social Security Income (SSI)
Another option is to apply for social security income. Based on your family income and your child’s disability, you may qualify for SSI. You will need to fill out some forms and make an appointment at your local social security office. There, you will have an interview about your finances and your child’s disability.
Of note, if your child qualifies for SSI, you will also be able to cover your child through Medicaid.
If you don’t have private insurance but make too much to qualify for Medicaid, look into getting insurance through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Open an ABLE Account
An ABLE account allows you to save money in a special account just for your special needs child’s medical and living expenses. You or other relatives like grandparents can deposit up to $15,000 a year. This tax-advantaged savings account does not tax the income earned by the account.
Another advantage of this account is that if your child qualifies for governmental assistance, such as SSI or Medicaid, the money in their ABLE account does not disqualify them for services on a financial basis. Meanwhile, the money in the ABLE account can be used for their education, food, housing, support services, and an array of other needs.
Find What You’re Eligible for With Your State
Another fabulous tool to use is Benefits Finder. This tool asks you to input some information about your child and his disability. It can then help you see what benefits your child may be able to receive and what agencies to contact to pursue these options.
Determine If Your State Supports School Choice
Many special needs children simply don’t get the support and intervention that they need through the public school. If your state supports school choice, you may be able to apply for funding to help provide your child with the education they need, whether that be through homeschooling and using tutors and therapists or through a private school, which would otherwise be unaffordable.
I’m in the state of Arizona, and they offer Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA). I have one child who has both dyslexia and a speech issue, so we applied and qualified for the ESA scholarship. Through those funds, I was able to get my child a private dyslexia tutor and a private speech therapist. Paying for these things out of pocket would have cost my family $800 a month, which is not sustainable. Thanks to the scholarship, I could afford to pay for that. My child has now graduated successfully from both therapies.
Indiana is planning to launch a similar program, and Mississippi has several scholarships available for students with special needs. You can find out if your state offers a similar program by going to the Ed Choice website.
Raising a special needs child can be exhausting, but it’s also rewarding. However, the financial costs of getting your child the help he needs can be financially draining. One special needs parent I spoke with when we first learned of our children’s disability said she and her husband ended up filing for bankruptcy because there were so many interventions she had to pay out of pocket.
There are resources available so that seeking help for your special needs child doesn’t have to decimate your finances. With these resources, you should hopefully find ways to afford raising a special needs child.
Melissa is a writer and virtual assistant. She earned her Master’s from Southern Illinois University, and her Bachelor’s in English from the University of Michigan. When she’s not working, you can find her homeschooling her kids, reading a good book, or cooking. She resides in Arizona where she dislikes the summer heat but loves the natural beauty of the area.