Chapter 3: The Traditional Special Needs Planning Industry is FAILING Families


How to Create a Special Needs Plan that Allows Your Child to Live a Purposeful, Impactful Life


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Chapter 3: The Traditional Special Needs Planning Industry is FAILING Families

My sister, Sarah, was such a big part of my life growing up.

As a child, I was involved in so many things that were crucial to her future success and growing abilities, like attending her therapy sessions and doctors’ appointments and coaching her Special Olympics teams.

As a teenager and young adult, a lot of my extracurricular activities included involvement with organizations that worked with individuals with disabilities, like Best Buddies.

From all of these experiences, I knew that “when I grew up,” I wanted to be in a profession that served families and individuals with special needs.

However, like many kids entering college, while I had a vague idea of the population I wanted to serve after graduation, I didn’t have a clear picture of what the particulars should look like.

After thinking about my options prior to beginning freshman year at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, IN, I chose to pursue a degree and career in Audiology. I believed that this would give me the ability to serve children with special needs and their families in a very important aspect of their success—helping them overcome many hearing impairments. While growing up, I had gone along to many audiologist appointments with my sister, and I thought I liked the idea of someday having my own practice where I focused on helping children with hearing disabilities.

My entry level audiology and speech therapy classes were really interesting! I learned a lot of fascinating details about how the human brain is able to learn language and communication at very young ages. The human brain is such an amazing creation!

Three years later, during my junior year at Purdue, I was still enjoying my classes and envisioning a career helping kids with hearing difficulties. It wasn’t until my sixth semester of college that we FINALY participated in our first audiology clinical experience. My classmates and I had spent the first half of our collegiate careers learning about how the brain processes language and getting to understand how speech therapy works. But now we were finally getting to the areas that I was most interested in: HEARING! Audiology.

I remember my first day of clinicals. I was so excited to begin pursuing my passion! My teacher paired me with another student who was also focused on audiology. During our first day of clinicals, we each had our own otoscope (a medical device which is used to look into the ears) and we were going to learn how to use them!

As I got ready to look into my partner’s ear, I envisioned myself in the future – in my very own practice – helping thousands of children by giving them the gift of better hearing!

However, what I saw through my otoscope made me flinch in my chair…
All throughout my partner’s ear was… bright green and murky yellow ear wax!

I couldn’t even begin to find her ear drum! Even though that was the part of the ear that our instructor told us would be visible at first glance.

Right then and there I knew there had to be another way that I could serve families and children with special needs WITHOUT having to look into people’s ears for the rest of my life!

Immediately following that class, I scheduled a meeting with my academic advisor to discuss my concerns and talk about my options.

Instead of advising me to switch majors so far into my college career, my advisor (wisely) encouraged me to continue pursuing my audiology degree, but to also begin taking other classes that interested me. She assured me that I would be able to find other ways to serve families that drew upon my past experiences and my passions.

I was torn. I was more than three years into my college degree and unsure where my future was headed. I was still 100% sure that I wanted to work with families of children with special needs. I just didn’t know where to transfer my focus and attention…

I began taking some classes in personal finance, economics, and business. I had always been interested in these areas. Soon after that, I met with a professional who advised me to consider a career in financial planning that focused on helping families who have children with special needs create plans for their futures.

What a great idea! And how awesome it was that it combined so many of my interests and passions – without the need to look at earwax!

After graduating from Purdue University, I began my career as an advisor at a financial planning firm where I hoped to be able to work families that were much like my own. I was excited to begin helping families plan for amazing futures for their children – futures full of potential and impact.

However, as I learned more about the financial planning industry, I soon realized that the industry’s standard approach to “special needs planning” was very different from how I remembered my family planning for Sarah’s future.

I found that families were being guided through a cookie cutter process that helped them prepare financially for what would happen to their son or daughter IF they died, but didn’t do anything to help them feel secure in their ability to plan for and create a great life for their child TODAY.

Do you often find that the way you plan your daily life looks very different than the way many other families plan?

I know this was true for my family. Looking back, I realized there were so many things that we planned differently. Planning typical activities – like a dinner out or a family vacation – all looked different because Sarah was a part of our lives. The unique details of my family’s planning decisions included so much more than just the financial and legal decisions that the planning industry I was working in emphasized. That’s when I realized that the industry’s approach to planning was much different than what I believed Special Needs Planning needed to be.

Worse than that…

I began talking with my parents about the steps they’d taken and implemented to plan for Sarah’s future needs. I asked them about the strategies that their current financial and legal advisors had put in place to care for her.

To my astonishment, I learned that, had my parents passed away with their current plan in place, Sarah would have actually been worse off than if they hadn’t done any financial or legal planning in the first place!

I was shocked. And quite frankly, angered that they had been given such bad and inappropriate guidance that could have negatively affected my sister’s future.

Not only were my parents given a false sense of security, believing that they were well-prepared for Sarah’s future, but the planning industry’s standard approach to “comprehensive” special needs planning didn’t offer any help or guidance in many areas that I knew, from personal experience, were essential if Sarah was going to live a purposeful, impactful life. There was no plan in place that would allow Sarah to thrive. My parent’s plan only focused on preparing for life’s “What Ifs…” and even those details were incorrectly planned for!

Can you imagine my frustration?

I realized that if my parents had been misguided and given a false sense of security, there were likely many other families in the same situation, who didn’t realize their special needs plan was either incomplete, inaccurate, or both!

There I was, only a few years into my career, but I found myself at another major crossroad…

Option 1: Just do what every other “special needs planner” was doing. I could simply follow what everyone else was modeling for me and telling me to do. I could just focus on the financial planning aspects of special needs planning. Of course, I would make sure that the errors that I found in my parents’ plan were corrected and I would make sure that the families that I guided also avoided these drastic errors. Helping families with their financial planning, is, after all, a way to serve them and help them achieve some level of peace of mind about the future.

But I knew that special needs planning should do MORE than just prepare families for what happens when the parents die – do more than just implement financial strategies and create legal documents… Special Needs Planning should be focused on developing ABILITIES, pursuing PASSIONS, chasing DREAMS. All the things about my sister that I was most proud of—her unique abilities—SHOULD be included in the process of planning for her life TODAY… and every day in the future. A special needs planner should help guide families through all of these areas of planning. He or she should be able to see the big picture and quarterback families through a full array of planning decisions and details.

Option 2: Give families a way to plan better than their current options did. Since settling for mediocrity was not an acceptable approach when it came to helping my sister, I knew it couldn’t be my choice when it came to serving other individuals with special needs and their families. I had to make a change. I had to create a way of planning that would enable individuals to live out the amazing, impactful lives I knew they were capable of living!

However, I was fairly new to the planning industry. I didn’t know what to do or how to do it…

So I began talking with the families I knew personally who had loved ones with special needs (my parents included), about areas where they felt unprepared or future planning details that were confusing to them.

Through these conversations, I quickly learned that there were many aspects of the planning process that were unclear to families, even though they’d been working with financial and legal planning professionals. So many details about planning for the future were complex and hadn’t been fully explained to families in ways that were easy to understand. In general, the planning process seemed overwhelming, frustrating, and confusing.

And the worst part of it all – all of the planning decisions that families had made revolved around deciding how to make sure their loved one was taken care of if and when the parents died.

No one had helped these families comprehensively plan so that their child could continue developing their abilities and live a GREAT life right here and now, today, while the parents are around to see them thrive and enjoy their accomplishments!

Due to my personal experiences and background, having grown up watching my family – and other families around me – plan differently, it was time to change things.

I knew that families with children with special needs needed:

  • Strategies to overcome other people’s limited expectations for their child’s potential
  • To adopt an abundant mindset about their child’s future based on their ABILITIES
  • To paint the picture of what a GREAT life could look like for their child – today – and every day in the future
  • To begin planning for that GREAT life as soon as possible
  • To be able to measure progress toward goals, including the great life that they envisioned for their child
  • To be able to adjust their vision and plan along the way, as necessary, if life events occurred and details changed
  • To create a plan that could adapt to any unforeseen circumstances that might occur in the future
  • To be able to identify and celebrate milestones reached (both large and small) throughout their child’s life that aligned with their hopes and dreams
  • To prepare their family and friends for potential transitions in the future, whenever they might occur
  • To organize all the details involved with caring for a child with special needs (doctors, therapists, medications, food allergies, daily routines, key relationships, likes/dislikes, etc.)
  • To understand and fully utilize government benefits to assist their child
  • To connect with individuals, organizations, resources, and services that could help develop and nurture the ABILITIES that they saw in their child
  • To financially plan for opportunities TODAY that would allow their child to live a GREAT life
  • To financially prepare for future “What If’ scenarios, including what would happen if the parents could no longer take care of the child
  • To create a financial plan that protected and provided for their loved one with special needs but that also aligned with their entire family’s financial hopes and goals – and both plans needed to be successful

Most importantly, families needed:

  • To be able to complete all of this special needs planning in a way that was EASY, EFFICIENT, AND AFFORDABLE!

I spoke with the leaders of my financial planning firm, voicing my concerns that, as an industry, we weren’t serving families in ways that would be most impactful to them and their children.

However, due to strict compliance rules and regulations in the financial planning industry, my ideas about holistic planning were quickly shut down. I was told that it wasn’t my place to talk about anything other than finances with my planning clients. Things like incorporating an individual’s unique abilities into their plan or planning so they can thrive, living a GREAT life TODAY were just out of our domain, as a “special needs planner.” It would be up to the families to figure out all those things on their own.

At that point, I knew it was time to leave the traditional planning firm I was working with. I couldn’t stay associated with an organization – or industry – that didn’t understand or care about what the families I was serving actually NEEDED the most.

That’s when I created ENABLE Special Needs Planning.

At ENABLE, we fully prepare families for future “What Ifs…” but that’s not the main focus of our planning process.

Instead, we help families create custom plans that allow their loved ones to thrive TODAY – and every day in the future. And our planning process specifically incorporates the unique abilities, hopes, goals, and dreams of the individuals we serve throughout every step of the planning journey.

 I am thrilled to be able to serve families in this way – a way that I believe is much more impactful than what the traditional special needs planning industry currently offers. And I can’t wait to share more with you about how you, too, can create a Special Needs Plan that allows your child to live a purposeful, impactful life using the process and system I developed. 


Not a problem! Let us send you the e-book version so you can download it and read it at your convenience! 

As a BONUS we'll also include the Essential Special Needs Planning Checklist to help you make sure you've planned for everything!

Just tell us where to send your resources: