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How to life plan for your young adult with additional needs

Ian Chaddock

BY Ian Chaddock

24th Nov 2023 Wellbeing

3 min read

How to life plan for your young adult with additional needs
In his new book What's Possible?, Graham Caldow shares his experience of supporting his young adult daughter with additional needs by creating simple models to build a personalised life plan to ensure a more secure future
Imagine if your child did more around the home. If they had better relationships with people in their life. If they had a purpose to their day. If they began to think about money and how it should be spent. Just think how transformed their future would be, and yours.
It’s possible if you do what you already do but with more focus and more intention—if you develop a life plan. That’s how I began for my daughter, and now my mission is to show others how to make a life plan and to support our children to learn independence skills, manage their relationships better, find a purpose to their day, and organise their finances.

Parenting a young adult with additional needs 

We all worry about our children’s futures, but as families of children with additional needs, the fears are more intense. When my daughter was at school, my priority was often just getting her through the day, through the week. As she grew older, the concerns magnified.
"We all worry about our children’s futures, but as families of children with additional needs, the fears are more intense"
I knew she should be taking on more responsibilities around the house and learning skills that might lead to greater independence. I knew she should have less screen time, but reducing this is hard with any teenager, let alone one with additional needs whose social networks are often limited.

The truth about building relationships

A teenage girl with her feed on the tabel looking at a laptop as her mother tells her to stop
Young adults with additional needs have fewer opportunities for leisure activities and often find it difficult to make friends. When our children do have friends, sometimes they don’t always understand how relationships evolve and transform over time.
They need to understand there is a difference between static relationships and dynamic relationships that will change. They also need to recognise when relationships are unhealthy and need reassessing. Good relationships are essential because having people in our lives is a vital part of good mental health.

The reality of looking ahead to the future 

I wondered what would happen to my daughter when I was no longer around to support her. I feared that the life she’s been accustomed to could suddenly be taken away along with her dignity to choose how she lived. I know she likes people in her life, but I have often needed to help her manage relationships with others.
"I wondered who would ensure she had purpose and help her manage her financial security"
It felt important that this emotional need for connection with people was not ignored simply because her mother or I were not around. I wondered who would ensure she had purpose to her day and who would take on the role of helping her manage her financial security. I stressed about a future for her that I couldn’t quite picture in a positive way.

Why a life plan was the answer

Parents discussing their young adult's future
I needed to stop worrying about the things I was imagining, and instead ask myself, what’s possible? I needed to find a positive answer and, with my wife Debra, we started to look for a better future. We asked ourselves what things our daughter would do easily, what things she would struggle with, and what things she would possibly never be able to do.
We realised we needed a Vision for different aspects of her life; we needed to decide which Options would work, and then Create a plan; finally, we would need to Assess how well it was working. Once we had clarified all of this, we would have left our Legacy in the way she lives her life on her terms. The anagram formed by this thought process was VOCAL.

The life plan in action

We began to put our daughter’s life plan into action. Now she does more around the house, she cooks her own meals, irons her shirts for work and plans her calendar. Outside the house she travels independently on the bus, she goes to the gym, and she shops with friends.
"She is building her community and learning how to deal with customers and work colleagues"
She is building her community and learning how to deal with customers and work colleagues. Every Sunday she spends time tracking her spending during the past week. While there is always more to learn, she is well on the way to living semi-independently, and hopefully fully independently in the longer term.

My newfound purpose to support others

A smiling young adult
We love our children unconditionally—everyone does. We want them to have a happy, fulfilled life that has dignity, friends and a purpose. As a parent of a child with additional needs, our hopes are no different. Even if there are additional challenges—and sadly our children will face a harder journey than others might—our children also deserve to live their best lives.
The best way to bring this about is to plan it, and that has become my mission: to support others to plan a better future for their children. The aim is to get every young person to achieve their full potential, not compared to others but by whether they do what’s possible for them.
What's Possible__cover LARGE (1)
Banner photo credit: Cottonbro Studio

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