When our kids are diagnosed with autism, we have a seething stew of emotions to deal with, ranging from disbelief to rage to relief (with roughly a thousand more emotional grenades in between).
What we give scarily scant attention to in those early days are the many financial allowances available to help us cope with our child’s diagnosis.
“Scary” because, like it or not, it is expensive to have an autie kid.
They need more expert input, more therapies and more equipment than your average child, and all of these cost.
I cried like a child the day I was awarded Domiciliary Care Allowance, because all I wanted was for someone to tell me that my child was just fine and that he didn’t qualify.
I soon got over that.
Reality bit my wonderfully squishy butt when I had to give up my nursing career so I could be permanently available for my son’s many appointments (and try sourcing childcare for an autie toddler!! It would seem most childminders would sooner cross swords with Simon Cowell).
That’s not something I feel bitter about, it’s just reality.
What I am angry about, is that nobody tells you about the benefits you are entitled to, let alone help you to navigate the complex corridors of paperwork they generate.
So I hope to clarify things a little here for all the newbie special needs parents struggling to wrap their heads around this seismic shift in their lives.
Hammie explains How To Get Ahead With Accessing Services For Your Special Needs Child and this is an excellent starting point for anyone with a child recently diagnosed.
It is a nuts-and-bolts guide of how to prepare yourself to manage the inevitable mountain of paperwork and information. It will make life so much easier for you, so please read it.
Arguably, the single most important benefit to apply for is Domiciliary Care Allowance. (DCA).
This is a gateway for consideration for other benefits such as the Household Benefits Package and the annual Respite Care Grant.
You can view (or print off) the DCA form here.
In the past year, there has been a shameful increase in the amount of applications for DCA being refused…if this happens, there are three magic words you need to repeat often and loudly… “appeal, appeal, appeal”.
If you are in employment and have to leave to care for your dependent, you may be entitled to Carer’s Benefit. This is not means tested, but does depend on your length of employment, and is payable for two years only.
If you do not qualify for Carer’s Benefit, then you might tick all the boxes for Carer’s Allowance. This is means tested so if you have four homes, three cars and own a small island, then you may not qualify.
Otherwise, get scribbling.
It has long been recognized that the Irish school summer holidays are too long and stressful for autistic kids.
If you click here, it will give you an outline of what July provision entails, and if you scroll down through the article you can also learn about Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) and Home Tuition.
JazzyGirl recently wrote a very timely piece about July Provision, so get it here while it’s hot.
Other areas that need to be explored are Incapacitated Child Tax Credits, which could be worth €3K per annum. I have always found the people at Inland Revenue very helpful, so a phone call to your local office would be time well spent.
Medical Cards are means tested, but I was very pleasantly surprised to qualify for a GP Visit card when I submitted my application.
Any information I have sourced about Home Support appears to aimed at the elderly, but when you have a child with special needs you are entitled to this service. If you do not have a Social Worker, then contact your local Public Health Nurse about this. It is a real lifesaver.
Finally, if your back is to the wall, the Ombudsman For Children is an independent entity set up to protect the rights of your child. Use them.
I had to get in touch with them a few years ago and they were wonderful.
So there you have it folks.
You may need a cup of coffee (or something a little stronger) to help you make sense of this.
Hopefully it will help prepare you to sail (rather than struggle) through the entitlements enigma.