Making decisions at different life stages
Life stages are developmental phases which people pass through in the course of their lives, each with its own biological, psychological, and social characteristics, e.g. infancy, childhood, adulthood.
Each life stage brings with it new roles and social settings, and is often accompanied by new demands on both the person with disability and the caregiver. Having adequate knowledge of life stage needs can benefit a person with disabilities and his/her caregiver significantly.
Life Stage Needs and Key Services in the Disability Sector
Young children/ early childhood
When a child is suspected to have special needs
Every child is different and develops at a different pace. Some require more support than others in various areas of development. While the anxiety can be overwhelming, it is important for parents of children diagnosed with, or suspected of having, special needs to be equipped with the right information and advice to make informed decisions for the child.
When a child is newly diagnosed with special needs
Caregiving is life-changing and is never easy. To be an effective caregiver, it pays to be aware of and understand the various supports available to help you and your child. Working alongside doctors, therapists, social workers and teachers can be beneficial to help the child make successful transitions across life stages.
In Singapore, with the Compulsory Education Act, children with special needs need to start either mainstream primary school or Special Education (SPED) school at age 7.
Formal schooling – mainstream primary school and SPED school
For most children, with or without special needs, the entry to formal schooling can prove to be a period of much anxiety and nerves.
Learn more about transiting into formal education here:
Preparing for life after school
The transition out of school can be challenging for both caregivers and children with special needs. SPED schools provide support through a structured Transition Planning process that begins when the child is 13 years old, to help him/ her identify and attain post-school goals.
SPED schools provide vocational preparation to help students with disabilities be employable when they leave the school system. Other students may be better suited for care services like Day Activity Centres and sheltered workshops.
Parents want to protect their children and keep them safe from harm – and all the more so if the child has a disability. The downside is that parents could overprotect their child or have too low expectations of them, which hampers their development and ability to live independently. Helping your child build self-confidence and develop to his/ her full potential require the setting of healthy expectations and goals, and encouraging the child to learn and explore safely, and do things for him/ herself to the extent possible.
Schools and service providers may run leisure or sports activities that interest your child. Or you can check out the Events page on this website.
For children with special needs who lack mental capacity, parents may need to prepare to apply to be their court-appointed deputies as the children approach the legal age of 21. This gives deputies the power to make important decisions on certain matters on behalf of their children, including personal welfare and health, ownership of property, and finance matters. The Assisted Deputyship scheme will help them do this, or they can approach the Office of the Public Guardian directly. More information can be found here.
Graduates of mainstream secondary schools can progress to institutes of higher learning, which have offices dedicated to support students with special needs. Graduates of SPED schools can also consider the School-to-Work Transition Programme and other vocational training initiatives.
National Service (NS)
Under the Enlistment Act, all male Singaporean citizens and Permanent Residents (PRs) are required to serve NS once they turn 18.
However, they could be partially or fully exempted from this requirement if they are deemed unfit for services, based on the results of medical check-ups. This is usually due to the person having permanent physical disabilities or severe mental conditions. Exemption will depend on the results of the medical check-up and the decision of the Armed Forces Council.
More information can be found here.
At the individual level, employment can boost a person’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. It helps to give him the dignity of earning his own keep, and a sense of fulfilment that comes from using his skills and talents meaningfully. But for persons with disabilities, the runway leading up to employment can be a long one, and both they and their caregivers may need to make a conscious decision to pursue employment as a life goal and work towards it.
Adult care services
Adults who lack adequate skills for employment may benefit from sheltered workshops, in which they engage in simple vocational tasks under close supervision. Those with limited care support at home could consider day care or residential care in group homes, adult disability hostels and adult disability homes. Alternatively, they could consider hiring foreign domestic workers to provide care at home.
Long Term Care Planning
Caregivers are naturally anxious about who will look after their child when they are no longer around. There is no simple solution to this, but starting early to address this issue can give caregivers more runway to make plans and take action.
Caregivers can consider applying for the Developmental Disability Registry (DDR) Identity (ID) card to help members of the public identify and extend appropriate assistance to their child with special needs, giving caregivers a better peace of mind.
Financial security and estate planning
Caring for a loved one with special needs brings various challenges – physical, emotional and financial, both to the child with special needs and the family members. Typically, financial planning may not be essential as parents care for their children until they are old enough to earn a livelihood for themselves.
However, when it comes to children with special needs, provision of care from parents never really stops, even when they become older and are no longer employed. Hence, careful and adequate financial planning is required for families with special needs children.
A Trust Fund is one of the many estate planning tools that parents can consider. It ensures that there is a steady income stream for their care recipients when they can no longer be cared for. With a minimum sum of $5,000, a trust fund can be set up through the Special Needs Trust Company (SNTC), the only non-profit company with trust services for persons with disabilities. More information can be found here.
Caregiver may also consider writing a will, which is an integral part of estate planning. It allows caregivers to distribute their assets according to their wishes, and ensure that their children continue to be supported after their passing. Without a will, the State will distribute one’s property to various relatives according to the Intestate Succession Act. For more information and services on wills and estate management, log on to My Legacy portal.
Preparing for your own needs
When measures are in place for your child, do take time to consider your own personal needs and wishes. My Legacy is a one-stop digital portal that directs you to services and guides you on everything related to future care planning – from palliative care and estate settlement matters to funeral matters. By documenting your wishes and plans, you can receive the care you want and help your loved ones handle difficult decisions when the time comes.
Qualifying for eldercare
As persons with disabilities reach their senior years, they may qualify for assistance from various eldercare schemes and services. The Agency for Integrated Care integrates social care, healthcare, mental health and caregiving resources under one roof for seniors, caregivers and care decision makers.
At the same time, some disability support programmes, e.g. sheltered workshops, may have an upper age limit. Staff will help the person with disabilities to transition to an appropriate service in the eldercare sector where possible.
- LifeSG App – A one stop portal for seniors, aged 60 and above, to access personalised government services and information.
Preparing for the End of Caregiving
Death can be a difficult subject to broach with anyone, as it is often perceived as a taboo topic. Even though the topic can be uncomfortable, it is important to accept and consider the reality of death, and have a conversation with your loved ones. It is good for them to express, and for caregivers to hear and understand, their fears and concerns regarding death as well as their wishes and plans for what is important to them.
Thinking about the time when they can no longer care for their care recipients can be difficult for a caregiver. The feelings about anticipated grief and loss as well as the uncertainties of what to do next can be overwhelming.
To overcome this, spend time with family and friends, who are your pillars of support during this difficult time. Meeting other caregivers who have been through the same journey may also provide encouragement and comfort for you. If you find yourself struggling to cope or unable to adjust, do seek help.
When measures are in place for your child, do take time to consider your own personal needs and wishes. More information can be found here.