“So what happens when my child turns 18?” “Can you explain guardianship?” As a Social Worker who works primarily with the Intellectual Disabled and Autistic population, I get asked this question on a daily basis.
Here is the dilemma, when an individual who is Intellectual Disabled reaches the age of 18, in the eyes of the law, they are considered an adult.  The word “adult” is a very scary word for parents who have children with Special Needs. Fear settles, and panic rears its ugly head because now parents realize their child can make legal decisions regarding their life. As a result, the role of natural guardians who are usually the parents, could be lost if legal steps are not taken ahead of the 18th birthday.
Why so much planning? Because the parent must realize that in order to assist their adult child with most of the decision making, which include but is not limited to medical, educational, as well financial matters, the law must determine how this will be achieved.
Whether your child has a diagnosis of Profound and Severe to High Functioning Autism, there is always the question of  “What if?”

I will not get tired of saying it over and over, if a parent is considering guardianship, it is best to start early and get educated as much as possible.

In the Tampa Bay area, there is an impressive advocacy group. This group meets periodically. Under the banner of Just Autism No Panic Right, Yadira Calderon has created a forum, a safe place where parents, as well as professionals, come together to discuss pressing issues regarding their Special Need Children. Most importantly, it is a great opportunity to network.

On March 29, the topic discussed was Guardianship and related legal matters. Some  questions asked were, ” Guardianship, do I need it and why?” Who can be a guardian and what is the cost? These, as well as other perplexing questions, were addressed at this forum.  The panelists were parents who have been through the guardianship process as well Attorneys who specialize in guardianship law.
Here is the information in a nutshell.
In the book Planning Ahead, the diagnosis of a disability does not automatically mean that a person needs formal decision-making assistance. Supporting an individual with disabilities and encouraging them to make their own decisions is always encouraged.There are levels to this. What are my options?Guardianship according to the law is defined as being legally responsible for the care of someone who is unable to manage their affairs.Full Guardianship removes all rights relating to both person and property and requires that first be an adjudication of the individual as utterly incapable of handling any personal decisions, money or property.  This act of guardianship takes away the person’s rights.   Full  Guardianship dictates where they can live, to marry, to be employed  This process is can be very expensive, may be considered as a last option as this is the most restrictive and can take a significant amount of time.

Guardian Advocacy
For those individuals who demonstrate they can perform some decision- making tasks then Guardian Advocate maybe a better option. The Guardian advocate is a process for families to obtain guardianship without deeming the individual incompetent. Guardian Advocate is a least restrictive alternative and less expensive as well.There are other legal options such as Power of Attorney, and Representative Payee which are even less restrictive, however, all decisions should be looked at from all angles and should have a person- centered approach.If you are a parent or a professional and need more information regarding guardianship, I have provided links and resources to help. Please ask questions, get educated regarding legal matters and your child.