Tough choices: The Cost of Raising a Special Needs Child

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Average Lifetime Cost of Raising  Children
USDA estimates that the average cost to raise a child born in 2015 will be about 235k.

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Not as much data exists on the lifetime costs of special needs children, however, research from Autism Speaks estimates that lifetime cost to raise a child on the spectrum is 1.4 million dollars, and if that child also has an intellectual disability, that nearly doubles.

State and Government Assistance
A common myth is that state and government programs cover all of the costs of special needs children.  Although there are programs available, some are income-based that may disqualify households with two wage earners, and those that don’t often have years-long waiting lists.

Out-of-Pocket Costs 
If you’re a special needs parent, you know all too well the out-of-pocket costs, along with the impossible choices that they bring.  Turned down promotions, the inability to work full time, losing a job due to taking (too much) time off, unpaid FMLA, while costs continue:  prescription medications, pull-ups, special diets, or choosing between a promising new therapy and other siblings’ needs, making it hard to plan for the future.

Planning for Adulthood
Many school-based services stop at age 21, although needs do not.

Well-meaning family members may give money or start bank accounts for your child, which may make them ineligible for government benefits.  It’s important to consult with a financial planner to determine what makes the most sense for your family.    Some options include:

ABLEaccount – a tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families.  The beneficiary of the account is the account owner, and income earned by the accounts will not be taxed.

Special Needs Trust – designed to supplement, not replace, the kind of basic support provided by government programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Funding Options
Monetary gifts from family members, including beneficiary designation, can be made to the trust, or money can be deposited into an ABLE account within state guidelines.  Another consideration is to use Survivorship life insurance policies to fund such accounts.

It costs significantly more to raise a special needs child, and planning for the future can seem daunting.  Consulting with a financial planner on ways to save for the future can help to ensure that savings are available for your child’s needs without disqualification  for government programs.

Want more?  Check out Been There, Tried it:  I Opened an ABLE account.


USDA (2017, January 9) Expenditures on Children by Families, 2015. Retrieved from

Autism Speaks (2014, June 9) Lifetime Costs of Autism Average $1.4 Million to $2.4 Million Retrieved from

United States Department of Labor.  FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)

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