By Catherine Goebel, MA, MS Ed., NCG-CGC, ILLP

There is much discussion regarding transitional planning for younger individuals with special needs moving from high school to employment, day programming, or additional education. But remember, it is also essential to have discussions regarding retirement opportunities for individuals with special needs. Never before in history have we had to deal with the phenomenon of so many individuals with special needs aging out and wishing to retire. Just like the general population, individuals with special needs are living longer and healthier lives. We need to be aware of how to assist these individuals in transitioning to a life of enjoyable retirement.

First, we need to be aware of our own state’s guidelines for those living in a group home or community integrated living facility. Some states require those in group homes to continue to attend day training and deny them the right to retire. Other states have agencies that actively teach individuals with special needs how to retire and assist them in re-identifying themselves as retired individuals. They may engage them in outings, introduce them to social groups and educate them regarding the issues of aging. A great example of such an agency can be found in Missouri, the Association for Aging with Developmental Disabilities (AADD), Contact them for questions, concerns or ideas regarding retirement and aging.

Everyone deserves the right to enjoy their “golden years” as they wish, and a special needs trust (SNT) can be very useful in achieving older individuals’ retirement objectives. Guardians, trustees and others supporting individuals with special needs should realize that their advocating should include individuals’ right to retire, and planning for that phase of their lives should begin sooner rather than later. SNTs can be used to pay for travel and other means of enhancing retirement living. If older individuals live in congregate living arrangements where, based on Medicaid regulations, they are required to engage in daily training activities, advocates need to be creative in order to craft at least a partial retirement plan.

In advocating on behalf of individuals with special needs, it is our duty to assist them in living a rewarding life which includes the pleasures of retirement.