Families that include a child or adult with special needs have unique issues to face when considering a move to another state. Special education and community services are not as portable as one would think. Parents should conduct a great deal of research before making a decision to move, or face dramatic changes or lack of services in the new state.
I had a personal experience with this problem back in 1989 when I moved from Florida, where my son received intensive special education services in school, to Colorado where they told us he did not not qualify for any services with the "label" he had at the time. This posed a tremendous problem for us, and my son was placed in a regular ed classroom with no supports until his teacher complained to the teacher's union.
I have met many other parents over the years who have had similar experiences. A mother I met at Special Olympics was shocked to learn that her adult son would be placed at the bottom of a decades-long waiting list in Colorado when they moved here. In their previous state, the young man was picked up at home every day to go to work in a sheltered workshop, and had many other activities that provided a meaningful life for him. In Colorado, he would get nothing while on the waiting list. Since many states have such waiting lists, make sure you know this before you move.
If you are considering a move to another state and your child or adult is receiving services that you do not want to lose, it is important to do your research. Follow a few steps to gather the information you need before you move:
1. If you have a child on an IEP, contact the school district in your new state to find out if the services your child is receiving will transfer.
2. Contact the local Parent Training Information Center (PTI) in that state for information about special education in the new state. A link to a list of PTI's can be found on our Web site.
3. Learn all you can about services and waiting lists in the state where you are moving. An excellent resource is the State of the States in Developmental Disabilities by the Coleman Institute. Even if your child or adult does not have a developmental disability, this report will give you a good understanding of how each state supports people with disabilities.
4. Find a support group like Parent to Parent, or one for your child's individual condition, to talk to other parents about their experiences in the state.
5. Check into the Medicaid waiver program in your new state. Find out if they have the same waiver programs you currently have. Parents of children with autism will find that only a few states have autism waiver programs.
Sometimes a move to another state for a "better" job can be completely overshadowed by the lack of services for your child or adult - or lack of Medicaid-funded programs to pay for those services. Paying out of pocket can often cost more than a family earns.
On the bright side, however, it is sometimes possible to move from a state is not going to offer services for your child or adult to a state that will. If you have options for where you will move, compare each state side by side and make a decision that will provide the most supports for your child or adult with special needs.