By Jeff Vistica, CFP™, ChSNC®, AIF®
For those of us who care for children with special needs, the end to 2020 didn’t come soon enough. For us, our mindset shifted from “coping” to “surviving.” The pandemic brought about a disproportionate impact for special needs families, especially those with school-age children, and are still embroiled in the ’20-’21 school year.
Many of these children qualify for special support under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This support may include access to a special learning plan, called an Individualized Education Program or IEP.
Unfortunately, adhering to an IEP during a pandemic is a herculean task.
Children with special needs are particularly vulnerable to changes in their routine. They may miss the social interaction provided at school and suffer the ill-effects of not having regular therapy sessions. According to Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician who is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, as a consequence, “some children were showing angry outbursts, intense crying episodes, signs they were emotionally dysregulated.”
Here, I hope to give you a few helpful thoughts on IEP’s, personal burn out and planning for the future.
- Don’t succumb
It’s very difficult for public schools to follow an IEP with the disruption caused by the pandemic. Parents of special needs children can easily succumb to feeling hopeless and resigned to simply accept whatever support the school is willing to provide.
They don’t have to.
- Know your rights in your state
In California, for example, a new law (Senate Bill 98) included three new requirements relating to special education.
First, IEPs must describe in far more detail items (like special education and related services, supplemental aids and services, transition services and extended school year services) for each student.
Second, it mandates required components for distance learning, which may include how teachers and pupils interact when using a computer or related technology.
Third, it requires every school district to have a learning continuity and attendance plan in place for the 2020-2021 school year. The learning plan must address the “learning loss” caused by the pandemic and explain how that loss will be remedied.
- Be an advocate
You may need to advocate for your child by requesting more services and supports. If you’re not satisfied with the amount of instruction your child is receiving, speak up. Explain why your child needs more help.
Teachers are overwhelmed so take the time to show your appreciation and understanding for the pressure they are under. Try to keep school fun and exciting for your child so these stressful times don’t negatively impact their perception of education in the future.
- Practice self-care
The pandemic has made me realize parents of children with special needs must take care of ourselves. These are incredibly difficult times. Having a child with special needs and being home with them, trying to keep them occupied, safe, happy, and healthy every day, is physically and mentally exhausting. It’s easy to “burn out.”
Be kind to yourself and to your partner. It’s okay if your kids watch a little bit more TV than usual. It’s normal to feel frustrated and short-tempered. We should admit our mistakes, apologize to our children when we fall short, get back up, work through the missteps and move on to do the best we can.
- Don’t postpone planning
In the midst of a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our lives, it’s understandable that financial planning isn’t top of mind. Now that we are into 2021 (which we all hope will be less stressful), this might be a good time to revisit this subject.
Start by asking yourself some basic questions. Are you meeting your goal of saving for the future? Have you identified how much financial support your child will need over time? Do you have a thoughtful estate plan in place?
A good resource for finding financial planners, trust officers and estate planning attorneys with experience in special needs is The Academy of Special Needs Planners. The website is an excellent source of information on the unique challenges confronted by families with special needs children.
Keep your planning on track with reminders. If it is finishing up your estate plan or writing a letter of intent, write yourself a reminder email. In that email, list the emotions you’re feeling now that are making you want to get that task completed. If you haven’t completed the task, maybe reading how you were feeling when you wrote the initial email will motivate you to do so.
Famous self-help author Napoleon Hill said: “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
These are tough times for everyone, and especially so for parents with special needs children. Hopefully, within the stress we are experiencing, will be the seeds of a better future.
Jeff Vistica, CFP™ (Certified Financial Planner), ChSNC® (Chartered Special Needs Consultant), AIR® (Accredited Investment Fiduciary) is the co-founding partner of Valiant Partners, a registered investment advisory firm located in Carlsbad, Calif. Valiant Partners devotes its practice exclusively to serving the needs of parents with special needs children. Visit www.valiantfutures.com.