Children with disabilities can attend public schools until they reach the age of 21. But what happens after that? Many times they are not able to go out and work on their own. Their parents often can't afford to put them in a facility during the day or can't quit their jobs to stay home with them.
So what are the options?
Beaufort County Disabilities & Special Needs Department offers a day program for individuals with disabilities, but it requires an Intellectual Disability and Related Disability Medicaid Waiver, according to department director Mitzi Wagner. The problem is, there are so many people waiting for a waiver that the wait time can be more than a decade, she said.
Wagner said about 4,000 people are waiting for the IDRD waiver statewide. In Beaufort, 94 people are on the waiting list.
And others are waiting for another kind of waiver, the Community Support Waiver, which is for individuals who don't have such high needs as those receiving the IDRD waiver, but who still have special needs. There are about about 4,000 people statewide waiting for that waiver and 84 in Beaufort.
Wagner encourages parents to apply for a waiver when their children are young. Iif the individual is already eligible for services through the department, parents can ask their child's service coordinator how to apply for a waiver. If they don't have a coordinator, they should call the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs at 800-289-7012.
"If they don't have a waiver, there's not much we can do for them because there's no money attached to them being eligible for services," Wagner said. "If they go and apply for that waiver when they're 7 or 8, there's a good chance then by the time they graduate from school, they have it and there are services available to them."
The department serves people with an IQ below 70 before the age of 18 and those with a lifelong disability. The day program offers individuals with disabilities a chance to socialize and work on a variety of skills, such as dialing 911, brushing their teeth and getting involved in the community. Some work on employment or pre-employment skills. Others are on work crews and get paid for their labor. The program begins at 8 a.m. and goes until 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Wagner said there are currently about 130 people in the day program. Some of those did not get a waiver and must pay for the services. The cost is about $600 a month.
Quantanaisha Moultrie, 22, began attending the day program last year, after graduating from Battery Creek High School. The Gardens Corner woman has cerebral palsy.
Her legal guardian and great-aunt, Rebecca Lawton, said an early interventionist told her to sign up for the waiver, and she did when Moultrie was about 10 years old.
If she had not gotten the waiver and therefore gotten into the day program, life would've been much more difficult, Lawton said.
"Her needs are just more than we could afford," she said. "And if it wasn't for the Department of Special Needs, I don't know how we would've honestly made it."
Even if Lawton could afford to stay home with Moultrie during the day, the day program is much better for her, she said.
"This is really a good social place for her," she said. "She gets to interact with her peers. ... She doesn't talk a lot here, but at home, she's asking me what time the van is coming tomorrow or what she's going to do tomorrow."
Even if you do apply for a waiver when your child is young, sometimes it's not early enough.
Pandora Moss got her autistic son, Dalton, a waiver when he was about 8 years old. He is 21 now, and Pandora said there are still thousands ahead of him waiting to get in the Beaufort County day program.
"Realistically, he's never going to make it to the top," she said.
Dalton graduated from Beaufort High School this year. Pandora said another option, Programs for Exceptional People, also has a waiting list, though it is much shorter. Moss decided to pay so her son could go to the Beaufort County day program. He started in September.
"That's quite a bit of money," Moss said. "Not what we were counting on. That's for sure."
Pandora offers this advice to other parents in a similar situation: "Always search and seek what you think is best for your child because every child on the spectrum is different. Always plan ahead. You can't plan too far in advance. I've learned that firsthand. ... Keep advocating for your child, whether it's in the school environment, community environment, whether it's playing a sport or boys club or YMCA ... whatever you think is best for your child."
Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.
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