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Even if your child with special needs has all the resources necessary to live well and happily, how to best use these resources might be unclear. Many “service-centered” programs function by identifying what a person is unable to do and then providing support accordingly. However, that model can unintentionally disempower its beneficiaries. It’s often more helpful for the person and family to come up with a solution themselves, so the benefits are as useful as possible for the individual.

One major problem with the service-centered approach is that it tends to to exclude people from general society – despite the fact that these programs were established to ameliorate problems of social exclusion and disempowerment. The “facilities” services approach, for example, sequesters people with disabilities in group programs, where they only interact with other people who share specific disability labels. Instead, they should be providing opportunities for those same people with disabilities to interact and form friendships with all people in the general population. But what can parents do to break that cycle for their child?

Person-Centered Planning: Focusing on the Person

At its core, person-centered planning involves making choices based on an individual’s strengths, abilities, and his or her value to the community. It’s about identifying those qualities and creating a life plan that keeps the individual at the center. This model of planning focuses on a person’s abilities instead of the tasks they are unable to do.

Person-centered planning starts with a conversation that focuses on a person’s needs and desires rather than the services that may serve them. Starting a plan involves asking these key questions:

  1. What are the person’s strengths, abilities and gifts?
  2. What is important to the person now?
  3. What does the person want to pursue in the future? What are their dreams?

These questions should only be answered by the person with special needs and his or her loved ones, along with a facilitator experienced in person-centered planning. After identifying the person’s strengths and life goals, those involved can examine which support systems will help meet those goals. That way, the individual can have a future that isn’t dictated by an objective program.

Until organizations and government programs reformat their social services to focus on the person, individuals and their families will unfortunately need to do some leg work on their own. At Milestone Consulting, we have helped hundreds of people with special needs plan their financial futures. If you are looking for resources or advice for yourself of your child, our team would be happy to speak with you to get you on the right track. When we all work together, we can better the discourse about special needs and the future of all individuals.

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