Parents who believe their children with special needs will attend college should save at least an extra $15,000 for expenses, says one expert.

Those funds can appreciate over time for the additional academic and living costs their students are likely to incur during the college years, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research at Savingforcollege.com.

Parents of children with autism probably need to save about $75 per month extra for college from the time their children are very young, according to Savingforcollege.com, a resource for parents and financial professionals. This figure assumes they’ll have to shell out another $6,000 to $7,000 a year beyond the cost of college for neurotypical (nonautistic) students, Kantrowitz adds.

“We looked at typical additional expenses and reengineered it,” he said. These extras may include special tutoring services, special autism programs and weekly counseling to address emotional and social issues. Students unable to adapt to chaotic dormitory life may also require a more expensive single room or other housing accommodations that include the services of trained assistants or therapists, he said.

Investing that extra $75 per month for 17 years, at a 6% interest rate, would give a student an additional $26,000 for college, said Kantrowitz. At a 4% interest rate, that additional savings would grow to $22,000, he noted.

Students with physical disabilities can also incur higher college-related expenses, said Kantrowitz.

Those who are blind, deaf or otherwise disabled may require assistive technology, note-takers or interpreters. A manual wheelchair can cost a few hundred dollars; a motorized one can cost a few thousand dollars or more depending on its features. Acquiring, training and caring for a service dog can exceed $25,000. A partially paralyzed student may require the installation of a pulley system to get in and out of bed, he added.

Although schools have to make a “reasonable accommodation” for disabilities, there is no standard for what they are required to provide, said Kantrowitz. Students with extensive medical equipment could even be charged twice the amount for dorm housing if there is no space left in a double-sized room to accommodate a roommate, he said.

Sorting It Out

Families considering autism programs must select a program that’s the right fit, ask the cost of the program and ask if financial aid is available. They also need to ask what other services are provided, what housing options are available and how much all this will cost, said Kantrowitz. For any disability, it’s critical to contact a college’s disability services office to ensure proper accommodations will be made to fit the student’s needs, he said.

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