What is in a Name?

By Steve Rhatigan, Principal, The Archer Consulting Group

SteveYou can call me peculiar but I’m weary of the term “Special Needs” being used to define everything we do.  Then why continue to use this unfortunate name; simple… business.  If our trade were footwear, how many units might we sell in this day and time if the name we used was “Cobbler”?

The process of developing a name for a brand, product or service is often heavily influenced by marketing research so as to be appealing and marketable.  The brand name is often a buzzword or pseudo word, such as Kodak or Xerox.  However, that is not the genesis of “Special Needs”.  Its origins are to be found in the legal profession with many negative consequences as the outcome.  

First, why am I antagonistic to the term? It is fundamentally inaccurate since the individuals for whom we work do not have special needs; they have the same needs as do we all: the needs for purpose, love, safety, enjoyment, freedom and as many others that you might add to the list.  What then do they require of us; both you as the caregiver and we as planners lifetime care plans uniquely prepared to provide them with all the needs they can handle.

The fact is that the first systematized planning program in the country was “The Texas Lifetime Care Plan”.  It was the dream of Dr. Frank Borreca, then the Executive Director of The Center on W. Dallas at Sheppard.  He was a true visionary and understood very early on (1980 or so) that parents had an obligation to develop some type of written plan to ensure that the care of their loved one would be expressed and passed on properly to the next generation.

His dilemma was that he didn’t know how to develop such a system, but he knew a group that might be able to assist in his quest.  It was chance that this author was part of that group and, along with a cadre of dedicated individuals, including two who were caregivers themselves, Dr. Borreca’s goal was realized.  Some thirty years on, that initial system remains the foundation for comprehensive lifetime care planning.

So, what happened to bring “Special Needs” to the forefront; the legal system with its many codes, citations and complexities.  It soon became a hot new market built almost solely on the single goal of maintaining eligibility for state and federal benefits.  To accomplish this required a trust; more specifically, a special needs trust; and a brand was born.

You may be wondering why I’m going on about what the process is called since the end product is a plan for my loved one.  It’s exactly because too often a plan is not what you end up with, rather a sterile stack of paper with a nice blue backing to add to all your other documents.  In our experience many of the people we meet with initially are quite content with their stack of paper and are under the mistaken belief that they have already “taken care of business”.  After all, they have gone to an attorney and have completed the procedures they have been told are the requirements to ensure a safe and secure future for their loved one.  It doesn’t take too long to quash that illusion and help them get back on a correct path to the design, implementation and upkeep of a comprehensive lifetime care plan.

My favorite analogy on this process uses the concepts associated with home building as best suited to explain the correct order of the steps to a real plan.

First, you would engage an architect [the planner] who would take you through a rigorous process of converting your hopes and desires into a well laid out set of blueprints, including the estimated costs of the different features of the completed plan.

At this point you are prepared to find an experienced builder [the lawyer] to construct this structure based on your well thought through specifications established in step one.  At the end of this stage you now have your passport and visa [the will and trust] and can move on to the third stage with confidence.

This stage represents about 60% of the most important aspects of your plan which include many major and minor actions too lengthy to elaborate here.  Suffice it to say, this is where the magic happens – where the music is added to the words – where art meets the science of the process.  It’s where you add your “voice” to what, at this point, is merely a pretty stack of paper. After you have given life to the plan you are obliged to keep it up to date and nurture it as time and circumstances require.

I didn’t say it would be easy or quick, just that you shouldn’t be lulled into complacency now that you know the rest of the story.

At Archer Consulting, we provide skilled guidance for people with disabilities, and those who love and care for them, to assure the best possible long term outcome for everyone involved.

Steve Rhatigan, Principal

The Archer Consulting Group