While attending an Elderlaw Conference recently, one of the panels discussed the resources available through our Department of Community Health and other agencies for individuals who are developmentally disabled.
One of the panel members was the parent of a child who she had brought up to adulthood using some of the resources available through state agencies, federal funded programs, and private foundations. As someone who has not dealt with the complexities of raising a child with special needs, I found it very enlightening regarding the best strategy to prepare your child for transitions in life. The mother on the panel explained how important it is to get the child evaluated, enrolled and accessing those support systems very early on to have full access to certain benefits later on. She described many different programs and associations which are available which many parents don’t access but that they could.
At one point in her discussion, she spoke of the transitions in a child’s life which most children move through with normal progression such as learning to drive a car and moving about independently once they have their own transportation. However, with her son, she sought transportation options for her son through supportive services as she wanted him to become as independent as possible as he matured. She explained that her goal was to help him become a productive member of society and ultimately find employment and ultimately find an independent living environment so when she passed away, he could continue to live independently with some assistance.
My father always said there are four things a child needs: plenty of love, nourishing food, regular sleep, and lots of soap and water. After that, what he needs most is some intelligent neglect. – Ivy Baker Priest
What is more important to a parent than their child? In particular, who doesn’t give greater attention to the most fragile of our population, the developmentally disabled? While the speaker was describing the inherent difficulties of raising a child who has to conduct himself or herself in a world full of barriers and resources that are often difficult to access, I did a search on my IPad for resources. And I came upon a regional three day long conference. There were over 50 presenters which included many professionals. Included were doctors, social workers, agency directors, medical school educators, and many more. What amazed me was that there wasn’t a single attorney listed. Granted many of the problems associated with raising a DD or ID child are not legal problems. But, the view from that parent’s perspective was peppered with references to roadblocks that she encountered to obtaining benefits that are entitlements and clearly intended for someone like her son.
There are so many resources available for developmentally disabled individuals that it is almost mind-boggling. There are so many laws written to protect those who need assistance. To fully understand one’s options, you need to understand administrative law and the intersection of many different state and federal programs. Yet, here is a conference concerning the access to programs that frequently shut out individuals who should be receiving assistance and not a lawyer in sight!
I am sure there are many attorneys in their lives who grew up with a disabled sibling or currently cares for someone who is developmentally disabled. You are probably already an expert and could establish a practice that caters to the needs of the disabled individuals. You might establish a legal practice and associate with all the other professionals who are frequently called upon to provide medical and social service support. Imagine how proper legal guidance for a parent will allow them to access those programs unhindered. Do this, and you will have more work than you can handle – I can just about guarantee it. And, this will be for a lifetime of the affected individual. Plus, you will be helping those that often need it the most.