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Financial Benefits Designed to Support Families Who Have Children with Special Needs

May 23rd, 2014

It is of the utmost importance that families with special needs take full advantage of benefits that are available from the government and the community. Sometimes families resist accepting these benefits out of a belief that they are only intended for low-income families. While there are income and asset requirements for some programs, your family should take advantage of any benefits you are eligible for, as it is in your interests and actually honors the intent of the programs.

Raising kids is expensive, and families with children who have special needs may have additional costs, such as medical expenses, therapy, modifications to a home or vehicle, and adapted recreation or child care. The costs may seem daunting, but they are easier to handle with proper financial planning.

A special needs trust is one of the most important financial tools to consider for a special needs child. This type of trust allows you to set money aside, or receive it as a gift from a family member or settlement from insurance, without worrying that it will affect the child’s eligibility for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid.

In addition to a special needs trust, building your family’s personal savings is even more important than it is for most families. You may have to pay for therapy or other treatments. Even if you believe that certain services should be covered by insurance or provided by your school district, resources may be required to advocate for the right to those services. In addition to services needed during childhood, families will want to plan for their child’s adulthood. Once public education and its attendant benefits are no longer available, the question of where the adult with special needs will live and what he or she will do becomes paramount. Proper financial planning done as early as possible will make this process much easier, and a financial adviser can be extremely helpful in creating that plan.

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The Rights and Responsibilities of an Adult with a Learning Disability

May 19th, 2014

Adults 21 and over with learning disabilities may face discrimination or lack of access to services in college or the workplace. These individuals must understand their legal rights and responsibilities.

In College:

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act protect adults with learning disabilities who attend college. The laws apply to public institutions and private colleges that receive federal funding and mandate that students with disabilities receive reasonable accommodations. Examples of accommodations include the use of a tape recorder or note taker, or additional time to complete examinations.

In the Workplace:

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities, including learning disabilities, from discrimination in regard to applications, hiring, firing, compensation, advancement and other employment terms. The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more workers. Employers must make reasonable accommodations to the known disability of a qualified employee or applicant, if it would not cause the business an “undue hardship.” Workplace accommodations may include additional training or supervisor feedback, or a quiet workspace.

If individuals with learning disabilities want accommodations, then they have the responsibility of disclosing their disability and providing documentation, in addition to requesting the accommodations that they want. Adults will probably need to provide documentation of their disability from a doctor. This can be done in a confidential meeting with a college disability services coordinator or with an employer. Documentation may consist of a letter from a doctor or other treating professional.

One must also remember that these protections apply to people who are “otherwise qualified” for the college program or employment position in question. One may have to prove that one is qualified. Also, the legal protections against discrimination do not act as an absolute entitlement to a job or a college education.

Most schools and large employers know of the law and are willing to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified people with disabilities, so it may only be necessary to identify oneself as a person with a learning disability and request the necessary accommodations. If a school or employer accommodations are denied, then these rights are enforceable through the legal process, but it is important to evaluate one’s individual circumstances with the help of a qualified attorney.

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Does the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Work for your Child?

May 9th, 2014

By: Giulia Frasca, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA), statute expressly provides that students with disabilities are to be educated and included with their non-disabled peers to the “maximum extent appropriate.”  This requirement is sometimes referred to as the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) mandate of the Act, and it is one of only two “maximizing” provisions in the entire statute.   With this language, Congress intended to protect students with special needs from being ostracized or isolated from the general population and requires that students with special needs be included in the general education population to the greatest extent possible.

Specifically, the IDEA  provides that States must have in place procedures assuring that, “to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”  See 20 U. S. C. §1412 (5) (B) as implemented by the Department’s regulations at 34 CFR §§300.550-300.556.
Recent Decision Mandates Inclusive Setting for Summer Program

Recently, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in T.M. v. Cornwall, 12-4301, held that the Congressional LRE standard applies to extended school year (ESY) services for students who are approved for twelve-month programs and who benefit from the LRE.    T.M., a student with autism was succeeding with support in a general education preschool setting during the school year.    However, for the summer, the district only offered placement in a self-contained special education classroom and offered T.M. related services only as part of the self-contained classroom experience.  T.M.’s parents rejected the summer placement because it was too restrictive and filed an Impartial Hearing.  The Impartial Hearing Officer (IHO) ruled in the parents’ favor and the district appealed.  The State Review Officer (SRO), who tends to rule in favor of school districts, reversed the IHO’s decision and the parents appealed to the federal district court.  The federal district court affirmed the SRO decision.  T.M.’s parents then further appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and received the relief requested.

Like the drafters of the IDEA, the Second Circuit judges who ruled in T.M.’s favor intended to draft a decision that would help the many children diagnosed with Autism and other disabilities who have been approved for a 12-month program and who obtain a meaningful educational benefit from an inclusive environment.
LRE Mandate Can Have Unintended Effect

However, school districts often use the LRE provision against parents.  For example, recently, a parent filed an impartial hearing against a school district for failure to provide a free and appropriate education to a student with severe social, emotional and psychiatric conditions whose conditions were exacerbated due to the inappropriate program.  His psychiatrist, the district representative and his parent recommended a residential therapeutic placement for him, but the school district would not approve a residential placement arguing that it is not the LRE.  The school district then issued a placement at a non-public state approved therapeutic day program although his doctors and other professionals maintained that he would further regress there and that it was not appropriate.  Such a position by school districts causes unnecessary delay in providing the student with FAPE, burdensome litigation and extensive costs to both parties that could have been avoided.
In my legal practice, I have encountered several similar situations with regard to students who require specific accommodations, a 1:1 paraprofessional, have severe disabilities, or are diagnosed with Autism, but are high functioning.  In these cases, an inclusive environment may not be appropriate because the student will obtain a meaningful educational benefit only if a restriction is provided.  A mainstream or integrated setting does not work for all students with disabilities.  Each student’s needs are unique and must be treated as such.  It is important for school districts, IHOs and legislators to consider that the IDEA limits LRE only to situations when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services can be achieved satisfactorily.  A cookie cutter approach can be more harmful than beneficial when applying the LRE provision of the IDEA to a student’s individualized educational program.
The special education team at Littman Krooks LLP has extensive experience advocating for parents of children with various special needs and helping them to navigate the labyrinth of special education law including cases where school districts may use the LRE against the student.

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Guest Blog: A New Way for Parents to Create a Letter of Intent

May 2nd, 2014

By Michael Pearce, Special Needs Attorney, Founder, Vestidd.com

A new Application solves one of the biggest problems facing every parent of a child with special needs.

How can I continue to provide for the protection well-being of my children after I am gone?  How can I make sure that my child with special needs will be safe and continue receiving the best of care?  Every parent who has a child with special needs seeks answers to these questions.  In response, parents are advised to prepare a “Letter of Intent” that will provide guidance for caregivers into the future. However, through no fault of their own, parents are rarely able to complete this vital task.

Here are the Top 5 reasons preventing parents from creating their Letter of Intent:

#1.   Getting organized.
There are hundreds of constantly changing details to organize.  Many parents simply don’t have the time or energy to organize the myriad of details of their child’s life, let alone putting them down on paper.

#2.   Formatting.

Your Letter of Intent is a “road map” to guide others, so it must be comprehensive, yet easy to follow.   Finding no practical tools to help format a Letter of Intent, many parents simply abandon the task.

#3.   Updating.
Your child’s life is constantly changing, so the document must be constantly changed. Word-processed documents are cumbersome and not easy to update (even if you can remember where you saved it!).

#4.   Saving and sharing.
Your updated Letter of Intent must be shared with others after you are gone. You will select different people to fill key roles over time. Mailing out updated copies yearly to different people during your lifetime is a nearly impossible task to manage.

#5.   Getting Started.

Facing this daunting task, many parents are simply frozen by “writer’s block.”  How much information should I include? How much info is too much? How can I not lose it?  How can I easily update the document? How can I share my Letter of Intent with the right people after I am gone?  With so much to think about, there is no clear place to start.

Parents will be relieved to know that an Application is now available that solves all of these problems: Vestidd.

What is Vestidd?

Vestidd is an application that lets parent create a Vest for a child with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (Vest i d d).  Your Vest is where you store, remember, find and connect everything and everyone that matters in your child’s life.  Just like a life-vest, Vestidd will help keep your child safe and protected into the future.

How does Vestidd work?
To create a Vest and get started on your Letter of Intent, go to www.vestidd.com to sign up.    Vestidd is organized by Sections and Pockets.   Sections cover each major area of your child’s life.  Pockets are where you fill in specific and unique information about your child.  Vestidd has pre-organized everything, so you don’t have to.  You can jump right in and go.

Everything in One Place.
Say goodbye to post-its, binders, and email chaos.  All of the information that used to be spread out across your house and your brain will now have a single home.  Vestidd lets you remember, find and connect everything and everyone that matters in the life of your child with special needs.

Easy Updates.
Vestidd is a Cloud application that works from any device –   iPhone, iPad, tablet, android, mac, pc – they all work with Vestidd.  This means you can get to your Vest from any device and easily update information as the need arises.  Your Vest is always there, keeping key information available at your fingertips.

Sharing.
Vestidd lets you connect family members and your child’s support team with just the information they need. When you update your Vest, team members are kept current with automatic update notifications.  You can revoke sharing privileges at any time.  You can also share Vest information by printing out a hard copy.  Vestidd’s sharing tools allow you to pass on current and comprehensive information about your child to future caregivers, so that they can continue to update your Vest, for your child’s lifetime.

Superpowers.

Vestidd has many other features that help families with special needs. You can take a tour and learn more at www.vestidd.com.
My wife, Sue, and I created Vestidd to help parents complete the special needs planning puzzle.

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