Having a child with special needs and learning struggles can put a strain on your budget. There are so many expenses with doctor’s visits, therapy, tutoring, specialists, and medications that the overall cost is overwhelming. As a speech/language pathologist and homeschooler, I could address some of my children’s needs on my own. I was a speech therapist before I became a mother, and felt blessed that I had an education background as I navigated the paths to finding help for my children’s struggles. It helped that I could do the speech therapy myself, but I still needed resources to help with the other diagnosis and treatment for identified areas of need. I relied heavily on input from my occupational therapy friends (thank you, Amy!) and had weekly visits to a psychologist for over three years. Actually, my child had the visits but there were times when I could have used more help for my own struggles as his mother! I took my two AD/HD children to social groups, parent-child programs, group activities, and more. There was a significant financial expense as well as a personal cost since I almost always had to be in fairly close proximity to help them be successful and to train and advocate with others who worked with them. My husband has always been supportive, but does not have the special needs background that I do and I was the one doing the homeschooling. As such, my husband just saw all the bills come in for all the interventions and programs we tried. We’ve never had money just to throw around and I wanted to be responsible with our family resources and have something to show for my efforts. Yet I’ll admit, even when I heard about treatments that sounded too good to be true, my heart still had a burst of hope wondering if it might actually be THE thing that changed our lives for the better. What kind of mom would I be if I didn’t at least give some consideration to something that might make a huge difference in my children’s lives and ease their struggles a bit? Some of the more outrageous proposals I was able to talk myself out of attempting, but there were others I explored more thoroughly. Some were rather expensive explorations with minimal or no returns, and I try not to think of what I could have done with that money had I not fallen for the marketing strategies and testimonials that sucked me in. Still, I have to say that as a parent desperate to find and do anything to help my children, I would have had more regrets had I not at least given some things a try.
Even if you have insurance, it may not cover all the therapy sessions your child needs or the other medical expenses you incur. Here’s what I have learned over the years:
1. Most medical professionals will work with you on financing. If you are self-employed or uninsured, sometimes they will agree to charge a lower rate than what the insurance companies are charged. Talk to the billing department and tell them how much you can afford to pay each month. If you are at least making monthly payments, you are much less likely to have your bill turned over to a collection agency.
2. Some agencies (like those with United Way) have sliding fee scales based on ability to pay. You have to share what your income is and how many are in your family and so on, but you may be able to afford therapy that otherwise would not be available to your child.
3. Check with your local school district, even if you are homeschooling, if you feel comfortable in doing so. Some schools will provide therapy and other supports even to homeschooled students. It varies from district to district, and I always recommend checking with Home School Legal Defense Association (www.HSLDA.org) prior to contacting your local school district. HSLDA members can speak with their region’s special needs coordinator for additional suggestions, including homeschool-friendly specialists and consultants in their area.
4. If you personally know someone who is trained in an area that your child needs help, think about an exchange of services. What do you have to barter with? I saw a friend’s child for speech therapy in exchange for her watching my children for a few hours now and then. It was worth it for both of us! More recently, I had two friends with sons in need of some speech therapy. I tried to persuade them to drive with my daughter (who has her permit and needs more hours of practice before getting her license) in exchange for speech therapy. They didn’t go for the idea, but because they were friends I saw their sons anyway. Try not to take advantage of your friend with professional training, but instead think of something that won’t bust your budget that you could offer in exchange for their professional expertise. They should be able to give you ideas and show you how to implement strategies at home.
5. I don’t have personal experience with this organization, but I came across this website some time back and thought it might be helpful for a family feeling buried under medical bills with ongoing expenses and no end in sight. It’s called “NeedyMeds” and has information on medicine and healthcare assistance programs. There is more information on the website www.NeedyMeds.org and if you are a low income family or are uninsured or under-insured this organization may be of help.