Failure To Plan Is Planning To Fail: Oak Wealth Advisors

Oak Wealth Advisors logoThis blog was written by our community partner Michael Walther of Oak Wealth Advisors. As experts in special needs planning, the people at Oak Wealth Advisors can provide your family with the support you need to put your future in order.

Planning For The Future

Having a loved one in your family who has special needs can be a blessing, but it comes with the responsibility to complete additional planning. While the planning includes covering the financial needs of the individual with special needs, planning extends well beyond dollars and cents. Failure to address the individual’s various planning needs can have disastrous results.

Educators can teach self-advocacy skills to students in a variety of ways. This image shows an individual in a wheelchair with two others on a grassy lawn.When most young adults finish school, they will make decisions about where they want to live, with whom they want to live, and what career they want to pursue. When the individual has special needs, the decisions are more complicated and usually require significant input from parents and others. Typically, the development of life skills and the focus on a future lifestyle are also developed during high school years. Many times, individuals with special needs age out of the school system without their independent life skills fully developed and some of their lifestyle questions unanswered.

Families with loved ones who face significant challenges must focus their planning on their loved ones’ current and future needs. The issues of where they will live, with whom they will live, and what they will do cannot be ignored. While underemployment and living at home are the most common outcomes for individuals, they are usually not the ones desired by them or their families. Even for families who are satisfied with these arrangements, there needs to be planning for the day when both parents have passed away.  

How Planning For The Future Leads To Success

Almost every family wishes they had more resources with which to support their loved one with special needs. Fortunately, a lack of family financial resources does not mean a situation is doomed. It is important to become knowledgeable about government resources at the local, state, and federal levels. It is imperative to create a network of trusted advisors, both professional and social, who will assist your family during you loved one’s journey. You must also try to stay current with regards to new legislation and planning opportunities. New developments will impact your family’s planning. 

Young student working hard.There are two primary obstacles to successful special needs planning. Time and money. You have to accept that you cannot do everything or buy everything you would like for your loved one. However, successful planning will help you achieve more of your planning goals by making more effective use of your time and helping you stretch your dollars. In addition, the planning will supplement what the family can provide with as many government resources as possible. Effective special needs planning results in greater peace of mind for all family members.

Learn More About Special Needs Planning

If you would like more information about successful special needs financial planning, please visit our website at https://oakwealth.com, email us at info@oakwealth.com, or call us at 847-945-8888.

Exploring Evanston: Travel the Town

In Illinois, students with disabilities can stay in school until age 22. From ages 18-22, this group of students typically participates in a transition program where they learn life skills. 

At Independent Futures, we partner with Evanston Township High School’s Transition House every summer. Our school team works with transition professionals to create a weeklong program that teaches critical skills for navigating the community. This program is called Travel the Town (formerly Life Tools Camp). 

This year, we hosted Travel the Town at Hub 930, a community space housed in one of our Community Living Options on Chicago Avenue. A group of 7 young men from the Transition House discovered all that Evanston has to offer them.

What Are Critical Life Skills? 

Let’s begin with an understanding of what Independent Futures considers ‘critical life skills.’ These are the skills that we need to live independently, like cooking, cleaning, and being safe. 

For example, as part of Travel the Town, students begin each day by discussing the day’s plan. They cover questions like: Where will we go? Is that north or south? How will we get there? What is the best behavior in context? 

Each of these questions help the students build safety habits, like not wandering and understanding public transportation. Building from these questions, the group voted on what they wanted to do and then left for their activities.

Where Did Travel the Town Explore? 

Two students prepare lunch at Hub 930.The Transition House travelers explored a lot of Evanston, including the Evanston Public Library  South Branch, parks, Andy’s Custard, Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop, Evanston Police Department, and more.

To visit all of these fun local favorites, the group took either the CTA bus or the ‘El’ trains. Led by Sharon Purdy and Cynthia Witherspoon, the students would determine which direction they needed to go and which train would take them there, plus which stop to get off. Each day, they navigated Evanston together, enjoying the freedom to go where they decided. 

Sharon’s favorite part of Travel the Town is the chance to spend “unstructured” time with the students. “The students don’t often get the chance to be out together outside the classroom,” Sharon says. “They enjoyed hanging out with their friends, having lunch in the backyard, and being together with nothing to do.” 

The Possibilities of an Independent Future

Travel the Town students exploring on the 'El' trainWhile exploring Evanston, the students were able to see what their own futures could hold. One of our community members, Lindsay, spoke with the group about what her life is like. Living independently in an apartment, Lindsay volunteers, has a job, goes out with close friends, and is engaged. Lindsay’s life is the type of full life that many of our community members have, and it’s a positive example of the life the Travel the Town students could have.

Like for people without disabilities, living independently has learning curves, and this program is a step toward futures where these students live independently. By focusing on life skills, our partnership with Evanston Township High School prepares students with disabilities for the future they choose.

5 Tips for School Success This Year

An apple on top of books with blackboard in background, indicating school successThe school year is almost here, and our Resource Partners at Oak Wealth Advisors, LLC, offers their advice for having school success. Take a look at our favorite tips below, and read the full list at this link.

  1. Seek knowledge. Children with well-informed families tend to have more success in school than those who don’t educate themselves about available resources. You can check out Center for Independent Futures’ resources page, ask the school’s guidance counselor, or check out tips from special education teachers’ blogs.
  2. Share praise frequently. School staff members who know their efforts are appreciated are going to be more receptive to new ideas and be more positively predisposed toward your child. Your whole family will benefit from a positive relationship with school administrators and educators.
  3. Request IEP drafts before meetings. Knowing in advance what the school has seen in your child’s development before your IEP meeting is beneficial in many ways. You will have time to absorb any bad news and to generate ideas for alternative approaches to challenges. (For more information on creating inclusive person-centered IEPs, check out our newest back-to-school blog.)
  4. Keep good records. Detailed records of your child’s past goals and achievements are very important. These documents can remind you of school success and act as a reference when issues arise. Your good records will have great value.
  5. Plan for transition before your school initiates the discussion. Thinking ahead about adult goals and life skills as early as middle school will allow for a more productive transition process and increased clarity in goals at the start of high school so that the final years of school can be as productive as possible.

Oak Wealth Advisors logoTo read the rest of the list and to see other resources from Oak Wealth Advisors, click here. Oak Wealth Advisors was founded to provide families with members with disabilities experienced financial advice and investment management services. To learn more about the services Oak Wealth Advisors provide, visit www.oakwealth.com.

How To Create Inclusive Person-Centered IEP Plans

At too many IEP meetings, educators focus on student deficits. They get stuck when it comes time to explore a student’s strengths. Educators and families alike wonder why these meetings are tense and difficult.

Families are constantly fighting to discover and create inclusive spaces for their loved ones. IEP meetings should already be inclusive and safe for students with disabilities but they’re traditionally difficult for teachers, families, and students. Hosting inclusive person-centered IEP meetings is crucial to a student’s long-term success. 

What Is a Person-Centered IEP?

Image of a blackboard with letters ABC on it with books and chalk in the foreground.IEPs, or Individualized Education Plans, are meant to be documents supporting the development of a student with disabilities. Required by law under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), an IEP should track students’ success in achieving learning goals. It also documents what services the student needs to succeed.

IDEA states that all children, with or without disabilities, have the right to an appropriate, free, and public education that meets the student’s needs. Because of the requirement of an appropriate education, parents and educators meet to discuss student performance and goals.

To make an IEP person-centered, it is important to include students. From there, educators can develop plans based on the students’ vision of their future. Read more for 3 ways families and teachers can put an inclusive person-centered IEP into practice.

  1. Support Each Other Through the Process

No IEP meeting is easy. Working together with understanding and compassion can make the process better though. 

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills.Teachers can start by interviewing the family about how past meetings went. What could have been better? What conversations went well? This interview is all about how you can help increase positivity throughout the process. 

For families, supporting your child’s school team is important too. Try to spend some time reflecting on your past experiences. What do you need to feel secure about your student’s education? Be clear and upfront with the education team and have goals of your own as your enter the room.

  1. Advocate for Students and Schools

Remember why you are all at this meeting: to support and advocate for the student. Family members’ main goal is to advocate for their loved one. But don’t forget, as a family member, you can advocate for educators too. Schools, especially special education programs, need to be fully funded; teachers need to be paid living wages; and resources have to be allocated to support these goals.

Teachers can advocate for their students in the classroom, but don’t forget to continue advocating outside the classroom. Have conversations with adults who live with disabilities – what is their daily life like? Teachers can also support the development of self-advocacy skills in their students. Read more about 3 ways you can teach self-advocacy skills to your students.

  1. Practice Self-Determined Transition Planning

Young man taking a book off of a shelf at the library with many books surrounding him and glass windows in the background.For this tip, teachers and family members can work together. Focus on the student. This may sound simple, but it is actually a much more involved process. Educators can focus on teaching students how to create their own measurable goals. Once the student understands the concept of self-determination, move on to helping them map out their dreams with action plans. 

Families can help at home with these important skills. Bring your child along to their IEP meetings, and allow them to articulate their own future. 

None of these solutions are easy to implement. However, both teachers and family members will find that these 3 ways to create an inclusive person-centered IEP will lead to better futures for students with disabilities. 

Not an educator or family member? Forward this blog to someone who needs it! 

How to Reduce Costs of Care Without Sacrificing Quality

Families of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities face many difficult decisions. From choosing how to manage care to determining how an individual can live in the community, none of these decisions are easy. But it is possible to reduce costs without sacrificing the quality of care.

Determining What Supports Are Necessary

Man holds out microphone to young woman in front of small audience.Happiness is one factor in many families’ decisions. The costs associated with care are another concern. According to data from 2009, the average cost of a person with disabilities living in an institution was more than $180,000 a year. For someone living in a community-based setting with supports, the cost is closer to $42,000 per year. 

These home and community-based services costs are averages and don’t reflect how costs are distributed. When individuals need more support, it is possible that community-based care could cost more. But for many individuals, learning life skills reduces costs by decreasing the amount of support needed for everyday activities. 

For families who aren’t sure independent living is an option, a life skills assessment is a great place to start. An assessment can help you and your loved one understand where they need more support. This helps your family can decide what care costs your loved one truly needs.

How Learning Independent Living Skills Reduces Costs

Photo of two women smiling, one a direct service professional and one a participant.When direct service professionals focus on teaching life skills, such as cooking healthy meals and cleaning their home, an individual’s need for support in skill areas decreases. Learning life skills like these doesn’t only help individuals with disabilities maintain their spaces. It also helps them build community connections and employment skills.

Increased skill capacities have the potential to reduce staffing costs and limit the need for support. In fact, an Independent Futures direct service team member shares, “After learning life skills, the hope is that an individual is able to reduce tutoring hours. And most of our participants are able to do so, saving money and living independently as a result.”

While most individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities will always require support, their potential remains limitless. By using life skills tutoring and person-centered planning, new windows of opportunity are within reach.

Impact of Person-Centered Planning

Person-centered planning takes place when direct service professionals account for the individual’s existing skills, hopes, and dreams. This type of care results in individuals setting their own goals and learning the skills they need to achieve their dreams.

That is just one benefit of person-centered plans though. In addition to self-directed goals, individuals with disabilities seem to have fewer requests for specialized care. Part of the reason why could be related to what funds are used for when a person’s hopes and dreams are considered. 

Volunteer supports participant in volunteer activityHome and community-based services funds have the potential to be used for a number of non-medical needs. Supports like employment help, remote monitoring equipment, and peer services aren’t traditionally covered. But with home and community-based services, access grows. Each of these supports can help an individual with disabilities achieve their dream of living in a community.

Reduced Costs and Independent Futures

For most people, moving out of our family’s home is something we look forward to excitedly. Finding the perfect apartment or house, decorating it to fit our own style, and having new freedoms changes someone’s life. Many individuals with disabilities have this same dream. 

Knowing that loved ones are able to advocate for themselves will provide you with renewed peace of mind. Learning independent living skills and living in the community means families of adults with disabilities can reduce costs without sacrificing quality and rest easy. 

 

How to Live With the Fear of Risk

When we first meet with a new family seeking services, we begin with a skills inventory of their loved one. The questions we ask can range from “Does your loved one know how to do their own laundry?” to “Do they know to lock the door when they leave?”

One individual’s parent told us, “We’ve never let our daughter walk in front of us.”

“They have never gone to 7/11 alone,” one mother explained. “What if someone took advantage of them?”

Another parent tells the story of when they were afraid their child shouldn’t take public transportation. “I worried they would get lost. Then their teacher told me they were already successfully riding the bus with other students.”

Educators can teach self-advocacy skills to students in a variety of ways. This image shows an individual in a wheelchair with two others on a grassy lawn.In each of these every day activities, these parents realized that their own fear was holding their child with disabilities back. Fearing the risks that come with everyday life, parents become overprotective and try to remove obstacles for their child. However, parents understand they can’t protect their child forever. They realize that they need to let some risk in, no matter how small.

Learning How To Live with Risk

Part of parenting is learning how to live with the fear of risk for your children and letting go. But for many parents of individuals with disabilities, this fear rises among surmounting challenges including funding for services, navigating benefits and life, building skill capacity, and more.

Black and white photo ofWith increasingly integrated classrooms and the rise of the independent living movement, adults with disabilities have greater access to community inclusion than ever before. As parents realize this, they wonder, “My child needs more support than other adults. How can they live on their own?”

Like with all children, parents of individuals with disabilities should begin by accepting that daily life is associated with risks. Affording your child the right to take reasonable risks benefits their self-esteem, skill development, and basic dignity.

In 1972, disability rights champion Robert Perske first wrote about the risk taking that all adults require to live a full, independent life. He wrote, “Overprotection can keep people from becoming all they could become. Many of our best achievements came the hard way: We took risks, fell flat, suffered, picked ourselves up, and tried again. Sometimes we made it and sometimes we did not. Even so, we were given the chance to try.”

Living Independently, Leading By Example

At Independent Futures, we encourage all family members to consider how they accomplished their greatest achievements. Could you have achieved your goals without help? The answer is most likely no.

Individuals with disabilities often need support in activities like budgeting, cooking, or planning. However, support professionals – and parents – can promote risk taking by teaching these crucial life skills through lessons designed to encourage independence and letting individuals experience adversity.

Jenny, in pink, poses with her mom who is wearing a gray shirt with red neck line.Supported by life skills tutoring, individuals with disabilities can choose their goals, based on their hopes and dreams. With the support of their community – which can include family, neighbors, employers, as well as direct service professionals – people with disabilities’ quality of life can be improved immeasurably.

Our life skills tutors challenge family members of individuals with disabilities to accept risks as a necessity to living a full life. This is a marathon of a challenge that all parents have to acknowledge.

Armed with goals and action plans, adults with disabilities can take advantage of the opportunities of a full life. By teaching life skills and asking your loved one to take on new responsibilities, they can live, work, and give back in the communities of their choosing.

Teaching Life Skills: Our Partnership with Lake Zurich Schools

To reach more individuals with disabilities and help them lead full lives, we work to get our tools for teaching life skills into the hands of creative transition teachers. After seeing a presentation by our school and agency experts, teachers at Lake Zurich High School knew that our My Full Life™ curriculum was the resource they needed.

Visualizing a Full Life

Lake Zurich School District logo with teal background and blue globe surrounded by four differently colored icons of people.Using our Full Life Model™, transition teachers at Lake Zurich help their students set goals and identify obstacles. “I love the visual representation of all of the areas of a full life,” said Annamarie Bader, special education teacher. “I feel like this gives us the structure to help students identify the goals they will need to work on to have a full life. It helps us concentrate on each student’s hopes and dreams.”

Annamarie taught in a self-contained classroom in California for 15 years before returning to work in Lake Zurich’s transition program. In the Lake Zurich transition program for students with disabilities, students spend half of their day in the classroom learning life skills like cooking and goal setting. The remaining half of the day is typically spent out in the community, instead of in the classroom.

“Our students prepare for their futures by going out to the grocery store, eating out at restaurants, and doing some recreational activities. Getting students out into the community, and having access to those resources is beneficial for their goals. Other times, students go out to job sites to gain work experience with a job coach. We’re pretty busy!”

Teaching Life Skills for Independence

A teacher in front of their classroom, photographed from the students' perspective.The Independent Futures’ curriculum, My Full Life, equips transition teachers with the resources they need to save time. With these lesson plans, learning is more targeted to students’ specific needs. “When you are teaching life skills, you are pulling material from everywhere,” Annamarie said. “My Full Life helps me keep track of my students’ accomplishments.”  

With our online application, Lake Zurich students may use computers or mobile devices to engage in the learning process, set specific goals, create action plans, and track progress. “Because the curriculum is online, they can easily access it on their iPads,” observed Annamarie. “It’s so great for everybody, but specifically for our students who are visual learners.” According to Center for Independent Futures’ School and Agency Consultant Marney Orchard, “It is great to see the young adults at Lake Zurich discovering new things about themselves and making plans for their futures.”

Impacting Students’ Futures

woman leaning over to help student at a computerAll of the components of My Full Life result in real improvements in students’ lives. Annamarie can use My Full Life to track IEP goals, conduct skill assessments, and see each component of full lives. And students can take this information with them into their future. “It’s helpful to have something for students to take with them after leaving the program at 22,” Annamarie explained.

Asked if she has seen its influence directly, Annamarie explained, “I absolutely have! It all starts with focusing on hopes and dreams. I am working with a student who wants to take college classes. Using the self-determination, goal setting, and action planning resources, he is advocating for his dreams.”

Building Deeper Relationships: Oak Wealth Advisors

For many years, we have worked with the planners at Oak Wealth Advisors. As trusted special needs financial advisors, the professionals at Oak Wealth Advisors demonstrate the work it takes to focus on an individual and plan with families.

A Night With the Experts

Oak Wealth Advisors logoAs a resource partner with Oak Wealth Advisors, we were proud to offer “A Night With the Experts,” a town hall event on Thursday, April 11th. Our Executive Director Ann Sickon, Dr. Meghan Burke of University of Illinois, and Mike Walther of Oak Wealth Advisors joined together to discuss the most challenging issues facing families with loved ones with disabilities.

Topics covered during the panel included transitioning through different phases of life, preparing your family for the future, communicating plans to others who will be involved, and building community relationships. Each of the three experts brought a unique perspective to offer on these topics, while answering in-depth and intriguing questions from the audience.

Oak Wealth Advisors Consultation Scholarship Opportunity  

Thanks to the generosity of Oak Wealth Advisors, we are excited to present an opportunity for one family to receive a scholarship for a 90 minute special needs financial planning consultation. During this consultation, Mike Walther and the Oak Wealth Advisors team will:

  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the family’s current financial position
  • Provide recommendations on government benefits
  • Explain the benefits of ABLE accounts and Special Needs Trusts
  • Give advice related to titling assets
  • Recommend elements to include in a long-term care plan
  • Offer referrals to other special needs professionals

Oak Wealth Advisors has generously offered a second scholarship! Email clarsen@independentfutures.com to receive the second consultation scholarship.

Thank you again to our partners at Oak Wealth Advisors for allowing us the opportunity to offer this consultation.

Developing Inclusive Technology in Chicago

Stage at 1871 Chicago event with six blue chairs and purple lights highlighting 1871 logos behind stage.Last Thursday, Center for Independent Futures hosted an educational and engaging panel event at 1871 focusing on inclusive technology in Chicago. When developing our online learning management system, My Full Life, Independent Futures chose to focus on creating inclusive technology that would support adults with disabilities. In the last year, our consultants have met other technology professionals doing similar work. We were honored to bring these experts together for a conversation bringing accessibility and inclusion to the technology field.

Inclusive Technology in Chicago: What’s Next

Jake Joehl introduces our panel and moderator using assistive technology like braille and a screen reader.One of our community members, Jake, kickstarted the event by explaining how technology helps him in his daily life. Using screen readers, Jake is able to navigate the world and stay informed. His phone and computer both support him in living his full life. In fact, Jake used a screen reader to introduce our moderator, Roger Liew of Impact Engine.

Throughout the discussion, Liew asked important questions of our panelists about the future of technology and accessibility. Richard Brown (Infinitec/UCP Seguin), Cameron Kempson (SimplyHome), Chrissy Dale (My Full Life), and Marcelo Worsley (Northwestern University) broke down exactly why they think inclusion is the next forefront of technological innovation.

At Northwestern University, Marcelo researches how to build accessibility Panelists listen to each other speak on inclusive technology in Chicago on stage at 1871.into the design process for developers. He noted, “Accessibility at big companies tends to start with compliance, but it has to move forward.” Cameron agreed, but she says even that isn’t enough. “People should start to look beyond big tech to companies like these that are developing with accessibility and inclusion in mind.”

As businesses start to realize what a large market people with disabilities and their families are, they will figure out that accessible technology is just good business. Moving beyond compliance with the ADA is the next step for companies designing tech solutions.

Designing For All: Focusing on the Individual

Part of person-centered planning centers the concept “dignity of risk.” That means that each individual is afforded the ability to try new things and encounter the risks that comes along with new experiences. At 1871, Chrissy explained that legislative changes and technological advancements helped us spread My Full Life throughout the country. “Starting with asking someone about their hopes and dreams, My Full Life allows individuals with disabilities to learn independent living skills and branch out on their own.”

Panelists pose for a photo on stage after a successful and engaging event!Richard expanded on this idea, explaining the biggest barrier for some people with disabilities has simply been “the technology catching up to they want to do. With technology, they can live their best full life.”

Building Inclusive Technology, Designed For Everyone

Do you want to learn more about accessibility in tech? Reach out to us today to learn more about My Full Life and how it could benefit your community! Inclusive technology in Chicago is only a starting point. The need for technology solutions like these are widespread and growing each day.

Missed the 1871 event? We filmed the panel, so keep an eye out for the video, coming soon!

A Guide to Person-Centered Planning

At Center for Independent Futures, our Life Skills Tutors commit to providing person-centered planning and life skills development. From day one, we have understood the power of asking an individual, “What are your hopes and dreams?” We are proud to have been one of the first agencies in Illinois to put the individual at the heart of our services. As more agencies ask themselves how to implement person-centered services, we want to share our experiences with you.

What is Person-Centered Planning?

Current residents smile outside their Community Living Option.Historically, people with disabilities were institutionalized and excluded from society. However, over time American society has come to realize that institutions are not the answer. Moving away from institutions, states have largely chosen their own standards of care and have created new policies at varying rates.

Person-centered planning is one of these policies that states are implementing at different speeds. At the core of this policy lies an individual’s vision for their own future. The goal of person-centered planning is to support an individual with disabilities in creating the future of their dreams. A tutor or team then decides on necessary supports based on individual goals.

These personalized support plans are never cookie-cutter designs. They are based on individual dreams, and then enacted using individualized support options. Because person-centered care is radically different from traditional supports for people with disability, sometimes agencies struggle with this change and wonder: how can we implement these ideas?

How Does Person-Centered Work?

In our office, we think of person-centered care as continued evaluation of a person’s hopes and dreams – and the action steps necessary to achieve their goals. With our participants, we begin by meeting with the individual’s support group, made up of family, friends, and community members.

We begin by asking about hopes and dreams, and then we identify obstacles and assets. This information helps to define goals and create action plans. Throughout this process, we listen, look, and learn to understand how we can best help someone create and reach goals.

Supplemented by our skills inventory and curriculum, individuals work with tutors to identify what life skills can help attain goals. Each part of person-centered care requires reflection and revision from time to time. As skills develop or dreams change, these plans have to be flexible enough to allow for new ideas.

Want to Learn More?

My Full Life application on iPad

In the last 5 years, Illinois mandated that by 2022 all agencies must use person-centered planning to work with their participants and clients. For agencies and educators, we offer our My Full Life™ online application. My Full Life includes an in-depth skills inventory, plus the most comprehensive skills curriculum available.

If you are interested in learning more, please visit our Schools & Agencies page and request more information through our My Full Life form. We can’t wait to help you on the journey to providing person-centered care.

Success Stories

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