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The Cost of Raising a Child With Special Needs

Raising children has never been more costly. According to the US Department of Agriculture, it takes about $240,000 dollars to raise a child from birth to age 18. Add special needs into the equation and the amount quadruples.

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I have one child, a son, who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. What is certain is that my son, like all children, has a way of learning and being in the world that is unique to him. And while every child’s needs for more or less health care, individual educational tools and emotional support will vary at times in his or her life, these requirements, and their costs, are never-ending for children with special needs. For example, as a parent of one with verbal challenges, I never stop looking for tools, support and therapies that will assist my son in learning to communicate. Recently, we have been considering enrolling our son in a school that uses play as a base for learning. We’ve seen that he learns best in a less restrictive and more play-driven classroom. The cost of this school is $1,700 per month.

I know a number of parents of children with special needs, and most of them take their children to the following therapies at least once per week, and up to three times per week.

  • Speech Therapy: between $125-180 per hour ($6,500 annually)
  • Occupational Therapy: about $100 per hour ($5,000 annually)
  • Behavioral Therapy: about $75 per hour, at least 3 hours per week (upwards of $10,000+ annually)
  • Life Skills Therapy: about $80 per hour, once per week ($4,000 annually)
For parents of children with special needs, these costs will last a lifetime and go far beyond the time a child completes college.

There are many other costs associated with parenting a child with special needs — therapies and appointments can require a lot of time away from work. If one’s child has physical disabilities and requires a wheelchair for mobility, it can cost thousands of dollars. And wheelchairs need to be replaced as the child grows out of one chair and into another.

When raising a child with special needs, ways to offset costs can include government assistance, but not all those who could use the benefits may qualify. Due to a child’s needs, he or she may qualify for Medicaid. Depending on their income, some families can apply for Social Security Insurance.

The resources offered by the Regional Center may also offset some of the costs. Depending on where you live and the strength of a center’s government funding, Regional Centers provide many tools and therapies at no cost to families from the time of a child’s birth to kindergarten. After kindergarten, the centers will pass the baton on to the school district, but in some cases they will step in should the school district not provide support. They also provide in-home respite care, adult day care, independent living training and a variety of other services that prove to be valuable to families caring for children with special needs.

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Like all parents, parents of children with special needs want their children to reach their highest potential, live productive lives, and be happy. And for all parents, that will mean investing financially in the best growth experiences for their child. However for parents of children with special needs, these costs will last a lifetime and go far beyond the time a child completes college and is an independent earner himself. The financial cost of raising a child with special needs demands resourcefulness and long-term planning for life while simultaneously doing the best you can, one day at a time.

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