The Difference between Service and Support
Today, advocates and professionals often use the word “support” to encompass anything that someone may need to live in his or her community. Often in human or disability services, an individual has to accept a change in location or compromise in the type of supports needed. The two examples below describe the differences between support and service.
1. After transitioning from Early Intervention into their city’s school system, a family was looking forward to having their child attend their local elementary school. In their transition meeting, they were informed that their son would be sent across town to the one after-school program established to accommodate children with disabilities. However, the family wanted their child to make stronger connections with children at their local school. After a series of meetings, the school district agreed to allocate “supports” through a voucher or other procedure to increase the capability of the child’s local school. This was accomplished by hiring a part-time staff person and budgeting some training for the other teachers at the local after-school program.
2. After years of having a successful job-coaching arrangement while in high school, an individual with disabilities turned age 22 and was told that he had to enter a sheltered workshop for employment services 10 miles away from his home. It was a disappointment for his parents because their son had done so well working in the community. The policy for the adult services system had been to invest resources into local workshops in an effort to provide services to adults. Feeling that this was not appropriate for their child, the parents had many meetings with the disability agency and contacted their legislator in an effort to develop a job-coaching arrangement similar to what they had before to support their child in the community. Fortunately, they succeeded and were given the ability to interview three agencies that would provide them with the supported employment services that met their son's individual needs.
The preceding examples highlight the differences between cases in which services are standardized to meet the needs of many and those in which supports are developed around an individual’s needs. However, one must realize that every state will have various degrees of flexibilities built into their support and service delivery system. In planning your child's future, it is suggested that you push to have supports that are built around your child's particular needs. Placing emphasis on supports involves developing a program around the needs of the individual. An environment that is driven by providing services frequently builds standardized programs for all.
The Life Cycle of Services and Supports
Throughout our lives we change and evolve. This is no different for individuals with disabilities. As a child, most of the options are consistent with options that other children face. As your child approaches the teen years, it will be vital to change perspectives and help him or her exercise more control and opinions concerning daily life. This will set a foundation that will assist your child with disabilities to build a life that he or she feels is consistent with inner desires and dreams. Avoid the temptation to accept the first service that is offered to you; instead, enter the process with a clear idea of what you and your child are seeking.
Although the Special Needs Planning Timeline covers multiple planning pressure points, there are three major periods where supports and services change regardless of your location. The major ages that trigger a change in services and/or supports are at your child’s birth, at age 3, and at age 22. There are additional pressure point ages and changes that trigger key planning considerations. These include transition planning at age 16, guardianship and Social Security or SSI at age 18, as well as the death, disability, or retirement of a parent.
Birth to Age 3 When you discover your child has a disability, it is important to obtain Early Intervention services as soon as possible. In addition, look for “parent-to-parent” programs where you can connect with another parent who is raising a child with a disability. Other parents can mentor you and share their information and knowledge. Apply for the Early Intervention services even if you think you are not quite ready to start them, because there may be a waiting period. Research shows that the earlier infants receive stimulation and further professional supports, such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy, the better the child does in reaching milestones.
Age 3 to Adolescence Transition to school is a very important period. At age 3, the school system is responsible for offering educational and related services. In addition, if a child has special health care needs, such as a chronic illness, a disabling condition, or a frequent need for medical technology, check out eligibility for your state’s TEFRA program (the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982) or Special Health Care Needs Program. Early Intervention staff will be of great assistance to explore such options, as well to help with the transition to school.
You may face some challenges during the school year, such as:
- Helping your child develop a social network
- Obtaining an appropriate education program while helping your child get included in the everyday life of the school
- Helping your child learn about his or her body changes during adolescence
- Making sure you work with your child, beginning at age 16 years or earlier, to develop transition goals at school and outside school to prepare for adult life
- Eventually developing a plan with your child and others who care that reflects his or her dreams and desires
Age 22 years and Beyond Becoming an adult isn’t easy for any of us. If your child needs adult services for any aspect of his or her life, you should start learning about the funding and programs offered by the time he or she is age 18 and still a student. Waiting until the last minute may mean limiting or delaying options in adulthood. Different organizations have materials that you can read to help prepare for this stage, but the foundation of the plan should be developed during the teen years.