Simply because parents earn a reasonable income, own a home and have savings does not mean their adult child can’t seek financial assistance from the government if they have a disability. Too many people are under the impression that benefits such as the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) are a measure of last resort. Unless their family is facing financial ruin, how could they have the right to income support? Or so the erroneous belief goes.

Once a child turns 18, they are an adult in their own right. They have a right to seek financial support from ODSP if their income is limited or non-existent and their assets do not exceed a certain threshold. What their parents earn and have has nothing to do with eligibility for ODSP and so it shouldn’t. It also does not matter if they still live with their parents or not.

Some parents who even understand their child may qualify for ODSP benefits, still have a difficult time with the idea of a family member relying on the government for support. Sometimes its perceived stigma, other times they have a sense they would be “milking the system” because they aren’t poor.

But think about it. While other families watch their children grow up and become independent, many parents of children with disabilities are providing significant financial support for their child’s entire life. Without the financial assistance ODSP offers, many families are easily pushed to the financial precipice.  Even with ODSP in place, many families suffer financially as they try to provide the care and support their child may need.

There are families who have a son or daughter with a significant developmental disability who can’t be left alone even for even a few hours. There is no guarantee of government funded support once that child is an adult and finished high school. Some funded supports exist, but the wait lists are long and spots that open up go to those with the greatest needs. Need is not only based on the individual`s needs, but also on the overall severity of their situation. If an adult with a disability has no family support because their parents have died or are too ill to care for them, they can shoot to the top of the list. Individuals on the wait list who have the support of their parents, even if they have significant needs, may have little chance of securing funded services.

A client of mine with a son nearing the end of high school is deeply concerned about how she and her husband will support their son once he is done with school. What will he do on a daily basis? Who will be there with him while she and her husband are working? They earn a reasonable income, but neither of them can stop working to be with their son 24/7 unless they are willing to take a serious financial hit and jeopardize their own long-term financial future. Here is what she shared with me by email:

The story is that services are limited and given to those in crisis. Of course, we’re all going to be in crisis eventually – it’s like we have a system with emergency rooms but no primary care physicians. It’s funny (and by funny, I mean not-funny-at-all) but when your kids are young, you feel that you have to not paint them in too positive a light, that if you point out their capacities to the school, the result will be a loss of supports. Once your kids are adults, you need to paint your entire family life as negatively as possible if you want services (“good news, pops, I’ve got cancer – that should get Johnny up near the top of the list”).

 Families that would otherwise be financially stable, face tremendous financial challenges when they have a child with a significant disability (developmental or otherwise). The rate of unemployment among adults with disabilities nears 50%. Those that do secure work, earn 20% less than their counterparts. A large majority of families who have a child with a disability have sited they have gone without services because they simply can’t afford them.

ODSP can provide between $800 and $1100 a month, possibly more. This amount often does not cover even the basic expenses, but it helps. It is the buffer against financial ruin for many families in this province. Even for those families who earn a healthy income.