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Guardianship and adult autistics: What to consider

Watching your child turn 18 can bring a lot of mixed emotions for any parent, but when that child is on the autistic spectrum you're faced with additional concerns that most parents don't have to consider.

Does your young adult child need a guardian?

For some parents, the severity of their child's condition is so extreme that there really isn't any question. If your child is non-verbal and suffers from severe cognitive disabilities as well, a guardianship is probably not only necessary but the only real choice that you have to make sure that you can continue to take care of his or her needs.

Legal guardianship puts you back in the role of having authority over your child, something that you probably generally took for granted when he or she was a minor. Without it, once he or she turns 18, you lose that legal authority--and your child loses your protection. You can't legally intervene in his or her medical care without his or her permission, arrange for his or her housing, therapy, medications, manage his or her money, or anything else without guardianship.

For other parents, however, the question is a lot more complicated. If your child is relatively high-functioning and autistic, it may not be as clear-cut of a decision. Asking your child to agree to guardianship means asking him or her to accept the legal role of a child again, something he or she may not want to do. Even if he or she is willing, is that something you want?

Consider asking yourself a few questions:

1. Is your autistic child able to handle decisions about his or her own healthcare? Can he or she remember all of the medication that needs to be taken, manage to call in prescriptions, and communicate his or her concerns to a doctor without you there?

2. Is your autistic child able to handle money? For some autistic adults, money is a very abstract concept and they can be financially abused very easily by "friends" eager to relieve them of any benefit checks they receive while the rent goes unpaid.

3. Is your autistic child able to arrange for his or her own school schedule, if that's an issue? What about grocery shopping, banking, and other mundane tasks?

If the answer is "no" to any of these, you may need to consider a guardianship, no matter how reluctantly.

Source: FindLaw, "Guardianship of Incapacitated or Disabled Persons," accessed Jan. 20, 2017

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