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Self-Employment And Caring For Special Needs Children

If you’re the parent of a special needs child, you’ve already proven that you can handle a tough—and rewarding—job. Perhaps you’ve also chosen (or are considering) self-employment so you can spend more time with your child.

It’s a challenging combination, but with the right tools, it could be the best possible way to make a living while caring for your youngster.

Unfortunately, information aimed at helping you handle your unique situation is scarce.

This report will begin to bridge that gap by helping you find the resources you need to succeed, avoid scams and rip-offs directed toward home-based businesses, and prevent burnout along the way.

The Statistics

Nobody really knows how many people are in your shoes.

The U.S. government reports that more than half of U.S. businesses are based out of an owner’s home. How many of those businesses are operated in households with children, let alone children with a disability or health issue? The question hasn’t been answered, and the issue hasn’t been studied.

About 10 million U.S. children, or 14 percent of the total, have special health care needs, reported a 2008 survey by the government’s Health Resources and Services Administration. More than 20 percent of U.S. households that include children have at least one special needs child.

The situation can cause an economic squeeze. The survey also reported that in 24 percent of such families, a parent had to quit a job or reduce his or her work hours to take care of the child.

The next section will help you consider some of the issues that self-employed, home-based parents may face.

Making The Home-Based Business Decision

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of running a home-based business is the freedom it affords.

As Sevierville, Tenn., entrepreneur Susan Hill writes, when your child needs you, “it’s much easier to stop what you are doing at home than it is to face your employer and deal with their scrutiny.”

But successfully working at home takes a great deal of thought and planning.

Consider the following questions before you decide whether a home business is right for you and your special needs youngster.

  • What hours will you be able to work, and will they be sufficient to earn the income you need? Are you willing to consider working before your children get up in the morning and after they go to bed at night?
  • Will you be able to structure your day so that you’ll have enough uninterrupted time to complete work-related tasks that require concentration?
  • Do you have the marketable skills and experience to start a business? If you’re a little short on those, do you have a great business idea as well as the persistence, creativity and time to see it through?
  • Do you have a designated office space at home to call your own? 
  • Can you network with former colleagues and other contacts who might be able to help you find clients and work?
  • How available can you be to clients, and through what means—phone, e-mail, in-person consultations? 
  • Can you set boundaries so clients know how quickly they can expect a response and won’t panic if a voice mail goes unanswered for a couple of hours? 
  • Will your at-home work be flexible enough to accommodate the occasional crisis when your child needs medical care or other intervention? How will you cope if your child had to make an extended hospital stay?
  • Do you have social support—family members, friends and other parents—you can draw on when you need help or a listening ear? 
  • How much care and supervision does your child need? Can any of his or her needs be met outside the home, for example, in day programs, or by in-home caretakers? Can you afford needed child care or respite care?
  • If you have a spouse or significant other, is he or she on board with your commitment to running a home business? How will the household chores be divided?

Avoid Home-Based Business Scams

In February 2010, the Federal Trade Commission promised a crackdown—Operation Bottom Dollar—on con artists who prey on people interested in work-at-home and home-based business opportunities.

Companies targeted included those that promised consumers could make money by assembling crafts, stuffing envelopes and mailing postcards as well as firms that charged fees for users to access work-at-home job listings.

Here are several common scams:

  • Craft-assembly kits. Supposedly the company will purchase the finished crafts for sale. But in fact, the products are never found to meet their so-called quality standards.
  • Stuffing envelopes. Consumers are sold worthless information in these pyramid schemes. The object is to get other people to send you money so you can teach them how to stuff envelopes, too.
  • So-called secret information that enables you to make money processing medical insurance claims. You’ll be asked to buy costly software or training sessions, although no home market for this service exists. Most medical offices process their own claims or contract them out to established firms.
  • Premium lists of at-home jobs, sold to you at a high price. Typically these lists consist of public Web links that you could have found on your own.

To avoid getting scammed, be wary about putting down money for job leads or opportunities.

If you think an offer is legitimate, call the company and speak to a human being who can explain the refund policy, describe when and how you would be paid (salary? commissions?), and provide references from satisfied customers.

Contact the Better Business Bureau to determine whether the company has a history of complaints.

It’s also wise to check out the Federal Trade Commission’s Web pages devoted to job scams and work-at-home schemes.

To file a complaint, visit the FTC online complaint assistant or call 877-FTC-HELP.

Organizations That Can Help

Support is critical to your sanity as a parent and your success as a business person. The following organizations can provide help—or can point you in the right direction.

Help for parents:

Help for home-based business owners:

Tips To Prevent Burnout

Caregiver burnout happens when the stresses of caring for your special needs child are greater than your coping skills. The same can be said for running your home-based business.

Combine the two and your chance of burnout doubles.

Watch for these common signs of burnout:
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Tension headaches
  • Neck or back pain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Withdrawal from others

No one person and no one action can magically make your stress go away. But taking these four steps will help you cope.

1. Learn and practice stress-management and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, guided imagery, tensing and relaxing your muscles, and meditation.

2. Exercise regularly. The time you spend walking, working in the garden, lifting weights or working out to an aerobics DVD will pay huge stress-relief dividends. If you don’t have a 30-minute block of time, take 10 minutes or even five. Anything you do is better than nothing.

3. Eat a healthy diet. It’s common to self-medicate with comfort food, but the resulting weight gain will increase your stress and reduce your energy level.

4. Ask for support from friends, family members, other parents, your faith community or paid caregivers. See your doctor if you feel depressed or anxious. It’s a sign of health, not weakness, to admit that you can’t do it all.

For More Information

There is limited information available specifically for parents who want to work at home so they can care for their special needs child.

This report offers an expanded information section to help you find the resources you need.


Ladies Who Launch

Home-Based Working Moms

Exceptional Parent magazine

Home Business magazine

Our Kids: Devoted to Raising Special Kids With Special Needs

Women Home Business

Work at Home Success


“Making Work at Home Work: Successfully Growing a Business and a Family Under One Roof”
by Mary Byers
(Revell, 2009)

“Will Work From Home: Earn the Cash—Without the Commute”
by Tory Johnson and Robyn Spizman
(Berkley, 2008)

“The Work at Home Mom’s Guide to Home Business”
by Cheryl Demas
(I’m Expecting, 2000)

“The Work-at-Home Success Bible”
by Leslie Truex
(Adams Media, 2009)

“The Work-at-Home Workbook”
by Lesley Spencer
(Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2004)

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