Book Review: Why a Life Plan is the Best Plan For Disabled Young Adults

With Graham Caldow, SEND parent and author

Graham Caldow is a father of two girls, and the author of a new book about how planning ahead can help your disabled young adult prepare for independence and learn important life skills. He has kindly offered SNJ readers three free copies of his book What's Possible? Plan a better future for your young adult with additional needs. If you would like a chance to win a copy of his book then please enter your details at the end of this post.

Why I wrote about a life plan for disabled young people by Grahan Caldow

I thought I knew what it meant to be a dad, and it was pretty much as I expected with our first daughter, apart from the lack of sleep bit of course. But when my second daughter was born, everything changed. Suddenly I found myself part of something no one can prepare for. The endless hours, days, weeks, years really, in hospital waiting rooms. Professionals telling us what not to expect and what our child wouldn’t be able to do

I’ve always considered myself an optimist but there were days when staying positive was hard, especially as so many people had decided how her life was going to be. On top of that our circle of friends shrunk due to a lack of time for socialising and, more sadly, a lack of understanding by some people.

We realised it was up to us, her parents, to find a way forward by trying to ignore all the negative voices. At first we did this by finding a local Portage service, and then by enrolling her in our village primary school with 1-1 support. For a while this worked, but the gap between her and her peers kept widening and we realised we needed a different solution. 

This involved a battle with the local authority where it felt like no one cared, least of all about her, and it was all about the money. Eventually we reached an agreement, securing a placement in an amazing school. For a while I allowed myself to relax about her future. But nothing lasts forever. As she approached the end of school, I realised that term “cliff-edge” is quite apt. That’s when I decided the best way I could help her was to ensure she had a clear plan for her future.  

Why planning is crucial

I’ve always had my own business, so I understand the importance of having short and long-term plans. When it came to my daughter, I realised she needed a life plan. I searched for life plan templates, but they all focused on setting goals, mostly around material possessions. That wasn’t what my daughter needed. 

She needed a life plan that would allow her to live the life she wanted long after I was gone. The more I thought about it, the more I realised her life needed to be broken down into four key areas: daily living skills; relationships with people; purpose to the day; and financial organisation. 

I want her to live more independently, which means she must learn to do more for herself. I want her to have friends and a community because loneliness is referred to as a silent killer for a reason. I want her to have a purpose to her day, so she has a sense of value. And finally, I want her to have financial security so she can afford to live the life she wants. 

Each of these has required different tools and techniques. Scaffolding has helped her build daily living skills. Scripts have made relationships easier. Finding the right work-focused organisation has led to her getting a paid job. Learning money management skills has given her more control over her finances. Also, as a family, we have organised our finances ready for when we’re no longer around.

To make putting her life plan together easier, I came up with an approach I call VOCAL, which stands for Vision, Options, Create, Assess, and Legacy. We needed a Vision about what she wanted, and then we needed to identify the best Options to reach that Vision. From there we needed to Create a plan of action. After a while, as with any plan, we will need to Assess how well the plan is working. And Legacy is all about knowing that when we’re no longer around she will be able to live her life in the way she wants.

Why I wrote a book

I’ve always loved writing and imagined that one day I might write a book. After spending so much time developing a life plan with my daughter that worked, I decided this was the book I wanted to write. 

Having a life plan has transformed my daughter’s life. Around the house, she does her own washing, cleaning, ironing of shirts for work, and takes turns to cook in the evening. Outside the house, she travels independently, goes out with friends to the movies, to dinner, to social events. She has a paid part-time job, where she’s learning new skills and learning how to deal with customers and work colleagues. She manages her money, and each Sunday tracks what she’s spent during the week. While there’s always more to learn, she’s well on the way to living semi-independently and hopefully independently in the longer term.

This book goes beyond detailing how we got our daughter to a place she loves and where we have peace of mind about what will happen when we’re no longer around. It also shares the wisdom that others have shared with us over the years. When my daughter was born I lost friends but I found a new community, a group of people who believe in what's possible, who tirelessly advocate for their children, and who never give up. If this book provides just one new idea to someone in our community to support their child, then I will be happy.  

About the author

Grqaham Cadlow

Graham Caldow is the author of  What's Possible? Plan a Better Future for Your Young Adult with Additional Needs.

Graham Caldow lives with his wife Debra in the South of England and is the father of two daughters. Having run various businesses for over 20 years, Graham now dedicates his time to supporting parents to help their children build the skills they need to live the life they deserve. Through Red Giraffe Solutions, he helps parents of children and young adults with additional needs answer the question: "What's next for my child?”. As the parent of a young adult with additional needs himself, his ultimate goal is to ensure they are financially secure, independent and fulfilled through bespoke life plans covering topics such as finances, building relationships and living with purpose. In his new book What's Possible? Graham shares his experience supporting his daughter and explains how he created simple models to create a personalised life plan to ensure a secure future.

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