Special Needs Planning Timeline

Special Needs Planning Timeline
Diagnosis, Early Intervention, Waivers Individual Education Plans, School System Waivers Transition Planning SSI, Guardianship, Medicaid, College/College Funding Individual Service or Support, Residential, Employment, Social & Recreation, SSDI/Self SSDI/DAC, Retirement, Medicare Lifetime Supplemental Needs, Estate Distribution Remainder Interest

Diagnosis, Early Intervention, Waivers


Early diagnosis of your child’s special needs can help you to understand your child better, plan for the future, anticipate challenges, and access vital resources. The term “special needs” covers a range of diagnoses, including autism, dyslexia, Down syndrome, blindness, deafness, missing limbs, and many others.

Early Intervention

Early intervention services are provided nationwide. While each state’s services are called slightly different names, the services and supports are very similar.  What changes state to state is how it is administered (through what agency(s) and who would qualify. Generally, services and supports are provided to children between birth and three years of age who have a developmental delay or disability. These services include speech therapy, physical therapy, and more, as well as Targeted Case Management or Service Coordination.


Medicaid Developmental Disability waivers are offered to both children and adults with various levels of intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. The “waiver” refers to Medicaid “waiving” the family income and asset requirement and looking only at the individual with a disability to determine eligibility. There are a multitude of services and programs offered under each waiver, depending on individual needs and program criteria met. While federally funded, these waivers are administered by the states, and so vary from state to state.

Individual Education Plans, School System Waivers

Individual Education Plans

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) begins as a series of steps, ultimately leading to a legal document. This document allows your child to receive special education services based on the support they need to succeed in school.

School Systems

The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) guarantees a free appropriate public education to all eligible children with disabilities. There are also many resources available to help you find the best private schools for children with disabilities and special needs.

Transition Planning

Transition Planning

Resources are available to provide support, information, and services designed to improve the outcomes of students with special needs and disabilities in the transition from middle/secondary education to post-secondary education and employment. The key to a successful transition is careful planning.

SSI, Guardianship, Medicaid, College/College Funding

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The Social Security Administration provides SSI payments for children with disabilities. Children younger than age 18 can qualify if they have a medical condition or combination of conditions that meets Social Security’s definition of disability. Their income and resources must fall within the eligibility limits.

Guardianship / Decision-making

From legal guardianship/conservatorship to supported decision-making and power of attorneys, there are many different legal options that exist for families with a loved one with a disability. As you navigate this process, be sure to look to your state or ask us to research the best options for your family.


In addition to adults 65 and over, persons who are disabled or blind may qualify for full Medicaid. A person who does not qualify for full Medicaid because their income is over the limit may “spenddown” their income limit on certain medical bills in order to qualify.

College/College Funding

Resources exist to help identify federal and state student assistance, targeted scholarships, and relevant grant programs available for young adults with special needs who aspire to attend college. For example, an intellectual disability may qualify you for a Federal Pell Grant, Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, or the Federal Work-Study Program. ABLE accounts and 529s can also be used to fund college and college experiences.

Individual Service or Support, Residential, Employment, Social & Recreation, SSDI/Self

Individual Service or Support

The Disability Services Agencies (DSA) is a group of related agencies and organizations in Virginia that provides various services, resources, and advocacy to adults with disabilities, and their families. The DSA shares essential administrative resources including human resources, fiscal services, general services, and information technology and security.


Independent or assisted living is an attainable goal for many adults with special needs. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and its state, regional, and local partners have been working collaboratively to increase the number of housing options available to people with developmental disabilities.


Information to assist individuals with disabilities with employment opportunities is available through state employment commissions as well as other agencies and programs. Many of these agencies specialize in helping individuals with disabilities and special needs find everything from part-time work to rewarding careers.

Social & Recreation

Social and recreational outlets are important throughout life but become increasingly so in young adulthood. Numerous programs and resources exist to help adults with special needs connect with others in their community in a social and/or recreational capacity.


The Social Security Administration provides two kinds of benefits to people with disabilities: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Social SSDI eligibility is based on your work history. Although most people with intellectual/developmental disabilities haven’t worked enough to qualify for SSDI, they may be able to receive SSI.

SSDI/DAC, Retirement, Medicare


An adult who becomes disabled before age 22 may be eligible for Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits if a parent is deceased or starts receiving retirement or disability benefits. Social Security considers this a child's benefit because it is paid on a parent's earnings record. After two years of receiving SSDI, a Disabled Adult Child becomes eligible for Medicare as well as Medicaid.


For parents of children who have serious disabilities or special needs, the challenges of retirement planning are magnified exponentially. While they are trying to plan for their retirements, these parents need to simultaneously secure the stability of a son or daughter who will be dependent on them‌ until, and even after, their deaths.


Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans (D-SNP) are unique plans available to some people eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. D-SNPs provide an affordable Medicare option for those who qualify, with low or $0 monthly plan premiums. They are designed to fit the needs of qualifying members with specific medical conditions or unique health requirements.

Lifetime Supplemental Needs, Estate Distribution

Lifetime Supplemental Needs

A special needs trust, also known as a supplemental needs trust, is a type of trust that can provide benefits to minors and physically or mentally challenged individuals. It can be established as a lifetime or testamentary trust, meaning it can be set up either while the grantor is living or by a will, to take effect only upon the death of the client.

Estate Distribution

Special Needs Estate Planning focuses on providing for the needs of your loved ones with disabilities when you are no longer there to organize and advocate on their behalf. Parents of children with special needs must make careful estate planning choices to coordinate all the legal, financial, and special care needs of their children, both now and in the future.

Remainder Interest

Remainder Interest

This relates to the distribution of remaining assets from a special needs or supplemental needs trust upon the death of the person for whom the trust was created. On that occasion, any remaining assets in the trust will be distributed to whomever you name as the successor or remainder beneficiary.