Leveling the Playing Field for Our Children with Autism

BY: - 20 May '14 | Parenting

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Facing Autism on BMWK

Parenting a child with autism is not easy. We struggle daily to level the playing field for our children. Honestly, we have no choice but to stay in fight mode and this can be overwhelming. The moment you let your guard down, something could slip through the cracks.

So I worry. I worry because I know that there are callous people in this world. They do not give two hoots about the vulnerable. I read their comments when they complain and ask why their tax dollars have to go toward educating our children and providing them with services. I read stories about our children being abused in schools and residential facilities.

I know that when our children age out of the school system there may not be many appropriate services for them. (People forget that children with autism grow up.) I know how much we have to fight for our children to get an appropriate education, services, and accommodations.

We do our best to protect our son with everything we have. When we feel depleted, we dig deep down and retrieve one more shred of perseverance to continue. So what can we do as parents to try to level the playing field for our children?

1. Have a comprehensive estate plan that includes a will, health care proxy, special needs trust, and life insurance policy. Death is inevitable and it is also scary. However you don’t want to leave these matters to the courts. Our children deserve better.

2. Expose them to the most appropriate education and services as early as possible. This is no easy feat. Every year we have to do a reality check to make sure that our son is progressing and getting what he needs in school. We just got him Medicaid through the waiver and now this will make him eligible for more services that can help him progress. I know as parents we have to fight for every crumb in the special education and social services systems. We have to stay on the battle field to fight for what our children need to thrive.

3. Give them tools to become independent. I admit that this is a work in progress for us. Our son is only six and sometimes I have to remind myself that he can put on his own clothes. I have to remind myself that yes he knows his sight words but what good are sight words if he can’t brush his own teeth or put on his own shirt? Yes there are times we do these things for him but the goal is to decrease our involvement and increase his.

4. Build a circle of support for our children. I got this idea from a speaker I heard recently and it really hit home. Look around you? Who can you rely on to look out for your child? I am not talking about a guardian here (that is covered under estate planning). I am talking about cultivating friendships for your child. I am talking about exposing your child to social and recreational opportunities. I am talking about finding support for yourself by meeting parents who you can build bonds with.

Do any of these ideas provide any guarantees? No. But this is a good start. They are a good faith attempt to help our children have a chance in a world where the odds are stacked against them. There is no time like the present to start. Let’s get to it.

BMWK: How are you trying to level the playing field for your child with autism?

About the author

Kpana Kpoto wrote 38 articles on this blog.

Kpana Kpoto, also known as Miz Kp, is a special needs advocate and blogger. She provides resources and support for autism parents through her blog, Sailing Autistic Seas and her support group, Bronx Parents Autism Support Circle. Kpana lives in New York City with her husband and only child, six-year old "Angel" who is conquering autism one milestone at a time.

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Wealthy Wednesdays: 3 Savvy College Savings Strategies

BY: - 21 May '14 | Money

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by Deborah Owens,

It’s graduation time and we are extremely proud. Our daughter Olivia is graduating from college. We wrote our final check for room and board last month.  Sending two kids to college over the past ten years has been a serious financial commitment that could not have been accomplished without investments made years ago. Sadly, far too many of us are not saving for college and that lack of action can lead financial trouble.

A few years ago I counseled a couple that was nearing retirement and the husband had recently been laid off. They were relying on the wife’s income and it was not enough to pay their living expenses and debts. After reviewing their situation I discovered that they were still paying off credit cards and student loans for their son who graduated from college more than fifteen years ago. I asked them if their son had offered to help them pay anything towards the debt over the years. Their reply was, “He has his own family and bills to pay.”  All over America this scenario is being repeated and couples nearing retirement are suffering the consequences. That encounter was a “pivotal” moment for me and changed my whole perspective on kids and college funding.

Contrary to what many of our children have come to believe, a four-year fully funded college education is not a birthright. In order for our children to truly value higher education we must set high expectations and hold them accountable. Their performance throughout their academic career will determine what schools they are accepted into and what type of financial support they receive. Recent statistics have revealed that far too many middle-income students are performing at marginal levels. Our children have to understand that the person who has the most knowledge wins in the global marketplace. Parents who are unwilling to demand accountability could wind up with costly debts and no return on their investment.

Here are some ground rules that parents need to establish to ensure their children value the investment of education without jeopardizing their own financial future.

Wealthy Life Lesson #1

Good grades and high SAT scores=Scholarships and entry into the University of their choice. There are millions of dollars in merit -based scholarships, which families from all economic backgrounds can qualify for. Have high expectations and hold your children accountable.

Most scholarships require an essay to be written which is excellent training for future college students.

Wealthy Life Lesson#2

Most states have implemented college savings programs also called 529 plans that allow you to pre-pay and or save for college tuition (visit www.collegesavings.org .)The younger the child, the more affordable these plans are. Rather than gift cards at birthdays or holidays, tell relatives and friends about the college fund you have established and encourage them to make deposits on behalf of your child.

Wealthy Life Lesson #3

Whether you had an opportunity to save for college or not visit www.fasfa.gov and complete the financial aid form. Your son or daughter may qualify for grants, subsidized or unsubsidized loans. Let your child be responsible for paying these student loans and contribute what you can afford to their education.

Higher learning leads to greater earnings which make student loans a good investment. Our daughter and son received unsubsidized student loans in addition to the savings that we invested in their education and they are responsible for paying it back. I remember my son telling me he realized that if he missed class he would be wasting his money. Now that’s what I call higher learning.

Deborah Owens is the Wealth Coach. She is the author of three books; most recently critically acclaimed, A Purse of Your Own: An Easy Guide to Financial Security, published by Simon and Schuster. Owens is a 20-year financial services industry veteran and former vice president with Fidelity Investments. Ms. Owens is a media personality who has been a contributor to CNN, ABC News Now, Shape, Essence Magazine, Ebony, Black Enterprise and is host of Wealthy Radio, which airs on WEAA an NPR affiliate in Baltimore, MD.   Visit her website athttp://deborahowens.com for more wealth building tips and tools.

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