MHAF is starting an exciting new series entitled “Autism Gurus” that features professionals who have significant experience and/or training in working with adults on the autism spectrum. This series includes, but is not limited to, doctors, dentists, lawyers, financial planners, and other professionals who encounter individuals with autism. The goal of this series is to share wisdom and expert advice that may be useful to adults with autism, parents and caregivers, and professionals in communities across the country. For our first feature, we are highlighting the work of financial planner and father, Eric Jorgensen, CFP®, ChFEBC(SM).
Eric Jorgensen is a financial planner in the firm of Main Street Financial Planning, Inc. Prior to joining MainStreet Financial, Eric was an Agent with Northwestern Mutual and had a distinguished 20-year Navy career. He is a Certified Financial Planner and Chartered Federal Employee Benefits Consultant. He earned his B.A. in Business Administration from St. Leo University, a MS in Finance and Information Systems from UMUC and is currently finishing his MBA UMUC.
Eric was widowed in 2012, and now resides in Silver Spring, MD with his 17-year-old son (pictured below). His son is on the autism spectrum, and is in the certificate program through John F. Kennedy High School. Not only is Eric active in the Financial Planning Association of Maryland, he is also the current Vice President and serves on the Finance Committee for The Arc of Montgomery County (Maryland).
Eric has given numerous talks about Special Needs Planning – most recently to the Arc of Prince George’s County in partnership with the Arc of Northern Virginia. He brings his personal experience from preparing for his son’s future in addition to his educational background as a Certified Financial Planner.
Continue reading to learn more about Mr. Jorgensen and his work as a financial and special needs planner.
MHAF: What advice do you have for parents and adults with autism in terms of financial planning for the future?
Eric Jorgensen: Don’t wait, parents need to plan and save for their retirements. Adapt the planning into concepts they can understand. For example, my son is not very good with money – so we created an excel spreadsheet he can use with his debit card. I’m teaching him to note when money is added to the card, and when he uses it to buy something. I created rules so the column will “auto sum” and provide a color code – green for positive balance, red for negative or 0.
If there is or will be an inheritance, work with a professional you can trust. Trusts are useful vehicles because they can help people avoid spending all of their money through limits placed upon withdrawal amounts (regardless if the individual has autism or not). ABLE accounts are another great resource, although not necessarily the solution for everyone.
Identify non-traditional expenses like therapies, medications, etc. Insurance is getting better at paying for therapy, but it may not meet the individual’s needs. Determine housing – for example: will you utilize a service provider’s residential services or put a house into a trust?
MHAF: What advice can you give to other financial planning professionals who do not have experience in working with adults on the spectrum?
EJ: Be direct, saying exactly what you mean. Explain concepts and recommendations, checking in frequently for understanding. If you’re going to use an analogy, make sure it’s something the individual you’re advising is familiar with. Take some extra time to learn about their challenges. In many cases it will not be a “traditional” plan. Do research on your own, or consult with someone who has specialized in working with individuals who have autism to ensure you understand what the diagnosis means; understanding that no two individuals will be the same.
MHAF: What advice can you give adults on the spectrum regarding interacting with a financial/special needs planner?
EJ: Learn how they are paid – are they selling products, managing investments, or just fee for advice. One isn’t necessarily better than another, but knowing how they get paid will help you understand how they will likely approach the plan, and if you know what you want help with, it can simplify the hiring process.
Ask questions, if you’re more comfortable communicating via e-mail, reach out that way first. Make sure the planner understands your communication preferences. You don’t have to work with an advisor if you don’t feel comfortable with him/her. When you are interviewing planners, a large part of what should help shape the decision is how much you trust them. If you don’t think they “get” you, then think twice before hiring them. Financial plans are personal, they reflect an individual’s goals, dreams and aspirations. Don’t work with somebody who is going to rubber stamp your plan.
MHAF: How do you think we can better engage the community and spread awareness on working with adults on the spectrum and fostering positive interactions?
EJ: Work on removing the stigma. As human beings, we all have quirks – it’s what makes us who we are. Increase awareness about behaviors that may seem “unusual” but are harmless – like stimming or echolalia (my son does both). Help people understand what a sensory overload may feel like, so they don’t look twice at someone wearing noise cancelling head phones or shying from touch. Perhaps the county fairs will allow booths to be set up where visitors can experience something similar – like they do with DUI goggles.
MHAF: How has the role of VP for The Arc Montgomery County impacted your career as a financial and special needs planner?
EJ: It’s helped me understand the role of service providers and provided me with insight into just how much cost is associated with providing day, residential and vocational programs. It’s opened my eyes to how little there is in terms of resources for adults with autism and how much more needs to be done to help families prepare for the transition from high school. All of this, I think, makes me a better planner because I can set realistic expectations with the families I’m working with. I can provide families with the value add of referring them to organizations (not just the Arc) who may be a resource for them, saving them the time and energy needed to do the research on their own.