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When Your Child with Special Needs is no Longer a Child
You're the Parent
Once your child reaches the age of 18, he or she is an adult. The fact that they have special needs is not an issue in the eyes of the law. Don't assume that everyone will understand he or she functions at the age of a ten-year-old. This adult is unable to make decisions like an adult. Nevertheless, when a decision needs to be made, legally his or her wishes will trump anything you say. There are ways to protect your child from the ramifications of a decision or contract made.
You have been your child's cheerleader, advocate, caregiver, and protector since you learned he had special needs. He needed special techniques and methods of instruction. Of course he needed special discipline and care. It wasn't easy, but you didn't mind. That was your baby and you would love him to 'the moon and back'.
You made the decisions that he couldn't. You chose his clothes, food, and education. Up to this point, everything concerning your child has been done with your approval. The school called you for every IEP meeting and you were there to rally for your child. You made sure he had supervision when needed and he was served in the least restrictive environment.
Then came the day the facilitator turned to you asked the question. "What do you plan for Charlie to do after he leaves school?"
"What do you mean?"
"Where do you plan for him to live?"
"He'll live with us."
"Yes, forever." You answer indignantly.
"What about when you can no longer care for him?"
"Then someone else in the family will care for him?" You say with more confidence than you feel. Now you're starting to think. Who will care for Charlie?
Your parents are too old. Your siblings all have their own families. Charlie's siblings will be getting married and having children of their own. Should they have to care for Charlie?
Special Needs Parent Handbook
The truth is that once your child becomes the age of majority, he is legally an adult with all the rights afforded adults. Do you have any say in what he does? Yes and no. The legal system does what it can to help when issues arise for adults with special needs; but there are times when their hands are tied.
If your child is significantly impaired and unable to think or make decisions for himself, you will be fine. You can make the decisions for him and as long as he doesn't argue, your wishes will be honored. The problem comes when the child is somewhat intelligent and able to make decisions. If he wants something other than you had planned or feel is best for him, you will have no authority to stop him. Consider the following scenario.
Junior was diagnosed as slightly cognitively impaired. He has learned some life skills and for the most part takes care of his own needs. He's learned to drive and obtained his driver's license with accommodations from the DMV. He works part-time as a carry-out at the local grocery store.
One day a pretty lady at the grocery store smiles at him. He is smitten. She comes in every few days and always greets Junior with a smile. Junior decides this is the girl of his dreams. After work he walks into the jewelry store, chooses a ring costing several hundred dollars, and signs a contract to pay $50 a week until it is paid off.
Clearly he doesn't understand the difficulty of paying about half of his salary every week to the jewelry store. Is this contract voidable? Yes it is. All you have to do is talk Junior into returning the ring and explaining to the owners that he is mentally challenged and therefore not responsible. Yeah, right. That's not happening. He is convinced he's in love and he's not giving that ring back.
So you take it upon yourself to speak to the store owner. After you have presented your case, you are informed that your son is an adult and therefore responsible for the contract he signed.
Now there are other options. You can hire an attorney, go to court, present your case to a judge, and hope he agrees with you. That will cost you from $5,000 to $10,000 for a ring that cost less than $1,000. Definitely cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Dependent or Not?
What percent of special needs (not elderly) adults live with family members?
So what can be done? How do you protect your child? The answer depends on the degree of his disability. It is possible to obtain legal guardianship of an adult with special needs. Guardianship is not the same as Power of Attorney. Power of Attorney is the right to act as the person's attorney if the person is unable to make a decision. Guardianship is the responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of the individual with special needs.
There are several forms of guardianship each with limitations and responsibilities. The individual with special needs does have some rights which the court will see that he receives.
How does one determine if a loved one needs a guardian? The court will be looking at three things before determining guardianship. Before filing a petition, you will need to answer for yourself and the court the following questions.
- Is the individual legally competent? Is he or she capable of making decision that are in their best interest?
- Are there other alternatives? The court will be looking to see that the individual receives every right he or she deserves. They will attempt to find a less restrictive option.
- Who is applying for the guardianship? Does the individual want the guardianship or does the potential guardian want it?
Guardianship is a major responsibility and one should be sure he or she is ready for it before applying to the court. The guardian needs to be someone the individual with special needs trusts and feels comfortable with. There will be times the individual will make a decision that is not in his best interest and will require intervention from the guardian.
Just Being Me
What To Do Now?
There are many options for adults with disabilities. We will be discussing this more in the next article. For the time being, there are several things you need to know. They are not easy to admit or accept; but it is in the best interest of yourself and your child.
Understand the following:
- You are getting older.
- The time will come when you can't take care of Charlie.
- It is not the responsibility of your siblings or Charlie's siblings (your other children) to be to care for Charlie.
- Charlie, like everyone else needs as much independence as he can possibly handle.
It is important that we prepare all of our children for the next step in their lives. It is vital that we prepare adults with special needs. They might have to be taught things that others pick up naturally. It might take them longer to learn it. But the benefits of learning it is that they experience growth like everyone else.
Parent Adult Special Needs
In the next few weeks I will be writing about some of the resources available to families of adults with disabilities or special needs. There aren't as many as there once was, but there are still resources. Not all are monetary or tangible, yet will change your life if used.
Meanwhile, what do you do? In this article we have referred to the individuals as "Adults with Special Needs" rather than "special needs adults." This is the correct way to refer to them. As human beings, we tend to remember the thing that is said first. If we use "Adult" first, then the emphasis is on the person. If we use "Special Needs" first, then the emphasis is on the "special needs."
These individuals deserve respect. They are not second class citizens or defective human beings. They are adults with special needs. Please treat them as you would anyone else.