By Chris Hansen

I think he knew what I was up to that gloomy spring morning. My non-verbal nephew Erik greeted me with a big smile as I was pouring my coffee.

“Hello,” I said, and with a big smile on his face he replied, clear as a bell, “Hello”. One would expect a non-verbal person to say nothing, but that’s a myth. Non-verbal people can speak a few words when they want to.

There are many more myths about autism, but as time goes on, the general public gains more understanding of this mysterious condition. Many believe that autistic people don’t have any friends, but Erik is my best friend. His other pals include Uncle Mitch, Uncle Tom, Aunt Patty, Nana, Cousin Mary, teacher Janet, the list goes on. Erik has an endearing personality; many people enjoy and seek out his company.

As one of Erik’s primary caretakers, I frequently worry about providing for him when most of us are gone. Erik is a ward of the state, so they have to provide him with room, board and care, but most likely, it’s just the bare minimum. I don’t want to think of a 75-year-old Erik wearing a torn coat and worn-out shoes because that is all the program could afford. I want more for him.

I have heard that special needs people were only allowed to have $2,000. Since that doesn’t buy much, I had trouble believing it. So I started researching options and discovered this $2,000 limitation is another myth. Special needs people can accumulate up to $100,000 in special accounts, called ABLE accounts, or Achieving a Better Life Experience. The best part about these ABLE accounts is that the earnings in these accounts are tax-free; no Boston Tea Party needed!

ABLE accounts were signed into law in 2014 but they remain somewhat obscure. A cousin of the college 529 plan, ABLE accounts are a recognition that special needs people frequently require some extras.

So who is eligible for an ABLE account? The ABLE Act limits eligibility to individuals with disabilities with an age of onset of disability before turning 26 years of age. Meeting this age requirement and receiving benefits under Social Security Insurance (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) automatically qualifies someone for an ABLE account. Eligibility requirements are ever-evolving so check back every now and then.

If you would like to know more about ABLE accounts, I strongly suggest you review the ABLE National Resource Center ( website. The website details all the stipulations of the ABLE accounts. Don’t worry, the prerequisites are not that bad, but it does require some paperwork.

I ended up opening Erik an account in Iowa. I like the low-cost investment choices, and Iowa accepts out-of-state accounts. Explore your options; there is no need to limit yourself to that big investment firm in town.

Of course, the most challenging part of the ABLE accounts is funding. I got Erik started as soon as possible, giving the investments time to grow. As a special-needs adult, Erik needs people saving for him, and I’m one of those people. I’ve made some sacrifices, and I am not too proud to return cans and pick up pennies in the street. If the tables were turned, my best buddy would certainly do it for me.