This Woman Got $200,000 in Grants for Her Autistic Children. She Can Teach You How.

Children frolic outside.
Getty Images

Sheletta Brudidge has secured more than $200,000 in free grant money over the course of her autistic children’s lives. With the biggest calendar year bringing in $80,000, this grant funding has paid for therapies that weren’t covered by insurance, a fence to address her children’s elopement concerns and a trampoline, as well as other sensory items.

Parents of disabled children often incur enormous costs just to provide a healthy life for their child. This is especially true in states that don’t have great access to Medicaid like Brundidge’s old home state of Texas, and disproportionately impacts middle-income families who are less likely to be covered by state-sponsored health insurance when it is available.

Even with insurance, parents often find themselves appealing claim denials, which can take years, or incurring costs that simply aren’t covered — like Brundidge’s fence and trampoline.

Have an ACCESS card? Here are seven ways to save with it.

How to Secure Grants for Your Child(ren) With Disabilities

Brundidge, who runs a Minneapolis-based media company called Sheletta Makes Me Laugh, wants to help other parents get their hands on grant money, too. She achieves this by running in-person workshops teaching people to secure the funding in the same way she did. And today, she’s sharing those secrets with us.

Read on to learn how you can get grant money to help cover disability expenses.

Search for Grants Based on Disability

Google is going to be your best friend on your grant search. You can start by looking for grants based on your child or family member’s disability. Brundidge stresses that while her children are autistic, there are grants out there for every disability. Your initial internet search might look something like:

  • “Cystic fibrosis grants”
  • “Cerebral palsy grants”
  • “Blind child grants”
  • “Deaf child grants”
  • “Down syndrome grants”

If you can’t find what you’re looking for on the first page results, keep scrolling. There are a lot of roundups that rank well in the search engines, but the grants they list may be outdated. A small business or charity that’s giving away money right now might not have the best search engine visibility, so you might have to go to Page 2 results or further.

Is money tight? Here are seven resources that can help nearly anyone.

A woman in a purple suit smiles for a picture.
Sheletta Brudidge has received more than $200,000 in free grant money for her autistic children. Photo courtesy of Sheletta Brudidge

Make Your Search Unique to Your Family

If you can’t find anything relevant and active with the general disability search terms, Brundidge suggests digging down further. For example, you could search for “grants for autistic kids in Florida” or “cerebral palsy grants in NYC.”

Getting hyper local doesn’t just help you find grant opportunities in your own community – because it’s so specific to where you live, there’s also likely to be a smaller applicant pool. Less competition equals higher odds that you’ll actually be awarded the money.

You can also look to any membership organizations you may belong to. For example, when Brudidge got her fence installed, it was paid for by the local chapter of her husband’s veterans organization.

“Some grants will be specific to who you are,” Brundidge said. “Sometimes it’s just a community organization. It’s got nothing to do with kids who have autism, but they still issue grants. You’ve just got to get creative.”

Vet the Grant-Giving Organization

When you apply for a grant, you’re going to notice they ask for a lot of personal information. Before you hand it over, make sure the organization is legit – and that they’re still offering grants.

Brundidge suggests doing what’s known in the security space as out-of-band authentication. It essentially means you do your own two-factor authentication. Just because the business has a website doesn’t mean they’re a legit business. So if they have a phone number listed, call it. If they have a customer service email, shoot them a message.

If they don’t have any additional contact information listed, do more research before submitting an application. Because that’s a red flag.

The second step Brundidge recommends is Googling the company and then selecting the “News” option for results. If there are any negative news stories related to the company, they’re likely to end up here. You can also check websites like the Better Business Bureau to see if the org is legit.

Finally, Brundidge suggests checking the dates of the last grant awardee.

“If you’re looking at an organization’s website and the last person who got a grant was in 2018 and it’s 2023, then that’s not the spot for you,” she said.

You can also ask the organization if they’re still issuing grants directly when you call or email as a part of your authentication process.

Write Your Essay as if You Were Talking to a Friend

Brundidge says the biggest thing that trips people up is writing the application essay. People get anxious about using the right register and making sure their grammar is correct, but she says this stress is not necessary.

“Just talk in your true, authentic voice,” Brundidge said. “Speak from your heart, tell them exactly what you need, and don’t try to talk like you think somebody might want to hear. Talk in a way that you would talk to your friend.”

In your essay, you can include things like:

  • Who you are/who your child is and why they need the money.
  • What the consequences of not securing funding might be.
  • What life would look like if you were able to get the grant money.

Include a Photo – Even if They Don’t Ask for One

Even if the application doesn’t require one, Brundidge highly encourages people to submit a photo of the person the grant will help with the application to up their odds.

“It’s easy to turn down paperwork,” Brundidge said. “It’s hard to turn down a child.”

Know How the Grant Will Be Applied

Some grant-giving organizations will straight up give you cash, while others will pay the vendor or service provider on your behalf. If they give you the money directly, they’re almost assuredly going to ask you for a receipt, so be sure to keep track of your documentation.

Understand That This Is Work

Just because grant money is “free” does not mean it’s easy to get your hands on. That $200,000 Brundidge has been awarded for her children? She worked hard to earn it. She got up hours before her kids, with a dedicated day of the week for each searching for grants, vetting businesses, filling out applications, and heading to the post office to mail in the paperwork. Each week she rinsed and repeated.

“This is not for the faint of heart,” says Brudidge. “Because grant money’s not falling out the sky. You’ve got to go get it.”

Pittsburgh-based writer Brynne Conroy is the founder of the Femme Frugality blog and the author of “The Feminist Financial Handbook.” She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.