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A Personal Mission: Giving Back to the Special Needs Community

A Personal Mission: Giving Back to the Special Needs Community

The American College of Financial Services
May 13, 2020

Imagine growing up feeling different: moving through the world feeling isolated, alien, and misunderstood by others. Those with special needs, including autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and those who go undiagnosed, spend their lives grappling with situations that are uncomfortable, unpredictable, and overwhelming. The experience of finally solving a lifelong riddle and understanding why they always felt different allows some late-diagnosed adults to recognize and embrace these differences with a newfound clarity.

Andrew Komarow, MSFS, CFP®, AEP®, AIF®, BFA™, CAP®, CASL®, ChFC®, ChSNC®, CLU®, FSCP®, REBC®, RHU®, RICP®, founder and president of Planning Across the Spectrum, is one of them. He was diagnosed with autism at age 28.

As a child born in the 1980s, Andrew grew up in a time where ASD was becoming a more commonplace diagnosis. Early on, his mother noticed he wasn’t quite like other children. As a baby, he would fixate on ceiling fans and mobiles for extended periods. By the time he was entering grade school, he had little interest in other people and rarely talked. His main interests in school were analytical tasks. Building and taking things apart occupied him for hours on end. His teachers noted his difficulty moving between assignments because of his laser-focus on one thing at a time. When asked to multitask, he became anxious and angry. He didn’t make friends easily and was held back in school because his teachers thought he might build better relationships with younger kids. 

His parents argued over his behavior and missed social milestones. His mother fought for answers, and his father thought he would grow out of it. They tried different types of discipline, different diets, different friends, different activities—but it was Andrew who was different. His trouble with school continued. He had a high aptitude for subjects like math and science, but didn’t have the patience for writing. He could spend days building computers and coding software, but had zero interest in music or art. He read finance journals and articles as if they were novels, but never wanted to read what his teachers assigned him. 

Andrew and his parents were faced with the realization that he wasn’t going to graduate high school in the “typical” way, so at 17 years old, he took the general education development (GED) assessment. Years later, his uncle offered him an interview at his financial planning firm. Andrew’s interest in finance had never wavered, and he saw this as the opportunity he had been waiting for. He had found something he was passionate about, and he channeled every ounce of energy he had into the job. He ate, slept, and breathed finance. He was completely in his element. Finally, a chance to do exactly what he wanted and something he excelled in. He became a top producer within his first six months and finished at the top each year he was there. He fell in love with financial education and sought out every license and designation he could, including almost all of the designations offered by The American College of Financial Services, and he also completed his master’s degree in financial services. I’m sure you can tell from his title, there are likely few in the profession that rival his number of credentials.  

Eventually, Andrew decided he was ready for new challenges outside the firm where he had found his purpose, and he ventured out to start his own financial planning business. A few years after launching his business, and after a lifetime of wondering why he felt so “different” from everyone else and years of misdiagnosis and treatment, he was finally told that he was on the autism spectrum. The diagnosis answered many questions about struggles he experienced growing up and as a young adult. 

A light had been turned on, and Andrew’s laser-focus turned to something new. What could he do to help the ASD community? How could he become a champion for those like him? He learned of the many services needed for children with ASD and that, while there are lots of services geared toward school children with special needs, there is almost nothing available for adults. The strain this puts on families and care teams is astronomical: about 50,000 people on the spectrum age out of school-based services each year and are essentially on their own. Andrew thought about creating a business that would fill the void in aiding families with children and adults on the spectrum in planning for their financial futures: as someone on the spectrum himself, he could provide a unique insight not typically found in financial services. That is when Planning Across the Spectrum (PATS) was born. 

Andrew’s experience has led him to dedicate himself to aiding the autism community, utilizing his knowledge and skills in the financial world and his own understanding of being an individual living with autism to help people on the spectrum and their families and caregivers plan for the future. He has personally experienced a plethora of issues that he can now help his clients with, while also understanding that every situation is unique. He provides guidance for life decisions and resources that may not be known about or easily accessible for average citizens. He helps individuals navigate the realities of living in a world that can be overwhelming for those with special needs.

 

Become a champion to families who need your guidance, advice, and support.

 

As the number of children diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and other neurological disorders continues to skyrocket, the disruption in the lives of all those concerned is inescapable – as are the costs of providing care for a special needs individual. You can help these families plan for their future with honesty, integrity, compassion, and the right answers.

The Chartered Special Needs Consultant® (ChSNC®) from The American College of Financial Services is the only credential designed to help financial planners support clients with special needs, and includes a curriculum built by an expert group of lawyers, financial professionals, and psychologists. The knowledge gained from a specialization in special needs planning elevates an advisor’s understanding of what it means to have special needs so you can compassionately guide families through complex financial decisions.  

To learn more about how the ChSNC® can give your career a higher purpose and make a real difference in the lives of the chronically underserved, visit TheAmericanCollege.edu/ChSNC or call 610-526-1118.

Invest in your career with a professional designation.

Families caring for a loved one with special needs face unique financial challenges, and yet few financial advisors have the specialized skills to help. But when you take the three-course Chartered Special Needs Consultant® (ChSNC®) designation program, you can gain the expertise to guide these families through complex benefit and financial systems, helping them find the peace of mind they deserve.

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