Self-Direction Services for Individuals With Special Needs

 Self-Direction Services for Individuals With Special Needs

By Kami-Leigh Agard

With summer 2023 soon to be another sweet memory, and many of us preparing for back to the grind, regarding schools, after-school services and recreational activities for our special needs loved ones, in this week’s column, I decided to revisit NYS Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) Self-Direction Services (SDS). This is quite timely as the next SDS virtual informational session (required if you intend to enroll in the program) is on Thursday, September 14. For the link, please email: or visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook.

So, what is SDS and why should an individual with intellectual or development disabilities consider enrolling? SDS is a service model for people with developmental disabilities that promotes freedom of choice and self-determined control over the delivery of Waiver and State plan services. OPWDD has a broad range of options available for SDS, allowing a person the ability to develop a plan that is customized to best meet their interests and needs. The program’s goal is to expand a person’s supported opportunities to live independently in the most integrated community-based setting of his or her choice. It not only offers individuals greater choice and control over the supports they receive, but it also expands their options beyond traditional agency programs to include services such as art and music therapy, community classes or training, gym membership, camps, and even reimbursement for software, internet, or cell phones. If a parent wants their adult child to start learning how to live independently, SDS would even pay for the individual’s rent and a live-in caretaker. It just depends on what the allocated budget affords you to do based on the DDP-2 (Developmental Disabilities Profile) score. (DDP-2 assesses a person’s needs in the areas of medical, sensory/motor, cognitive/communication, behavior, self-care/daily living skills and clinical services).

As a Home and Community Based Waiver OPWDD program, Self-Direction allows individuals to create and manage a budget, hire support staff (including respite and community habilitation direct support workers), and engage in activities that will enhance integration to live and work in the community. The individual may choose a mix of supports, services, and staff that best suit their needs. In a nutshell, the program gives individuals a chance to live life the way they want to without having to wait for agencies, which are facing a dire worker shortage.

Your SDS budget amount determined by a Personal Resource Account (PRA), which is the maximum amount of funding that is used to budget for a person’s supports and services. It is reviewed annually and is determined by the person’s DDP-2 scores. Through a series of questions, it determines your child’s annual budget. It could be $30K or even $130K. You just utilize the annual allocation until the budget is done. However, you have to front the money first, and then you get reimbursed. And the reimbursement process is quite seamless. You submit your receipts once a month, and then it takes from 30 to 45 days for SDS to reimburse you. Note that the residual money you don’t spend, you lose.

If you’re thinking this sounds too good to be true, just ask a few local parents who have enrolled in SDS, and only have good things to say about the program. One parent used SDS to pay for his son’s surfing, karate and dance lessons. Another parent, Fred Rodriguez, said, “The program was one of the best things we did for our son because it allowed us to afford activities for him that we couldn’t before. For example, swimming, horseback-riding, soccer and piano lessons, and camp cost a lot of money. We knew that all of these activities would help toward his future and growth. Before SDS, we couldn’t afford it, however with the program now we can.”

Stay tuned for my next column in which I interview a parent about why SDS was a game changer for his son.

Rockaway Beach Autism Families invites the community-at large to our 3rd Annual End-Of-Summer BBQ Back-To-School Fun!Day! Fundraiser happening this Sunday, August 27, 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Bayswater Park (701 Bay 32nd Street). Besides food, we’ll have a host of field races like potato bag, egg-and-spoon and more, plus sensory activities, arts and crafts, and dancing! For more info, visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/ Instagram.

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