What to do legally when your Autistic child turns 18
Ahhh, turning 18...usually a proud and happy moment for a child and their parents. However, if your child is autistic or has other developmental disabilities and has to rely on a parent or others to take care of or make decisions for them, this can be a terrifying time. A parent of a minor child who is on the spectrum can make medical, mental health, social, and living decisions for their child as a right by being the child's natural guardian. However, once the child turns 18, they legally become an adult and are emancipated. This means that your child, who may or may not have severe mental impairments, now has the right to make their own medical, mental health, social, educational, and living decisions.
What is a concerned parent to do?
In order for one or both parents to regain control and have the right to make medical, mental health, social, educational, living decisions, and apply for government benefits for their autistic or developmentally disabled child, the first step is to have one or both parents appointed as guardian advocate. It is essential to have a guardian advocate appointed as soon as possible when your child turns 18, so that in case of an emergency or other unforeseen event, a parent has the legal authority to act and make decisions for their child.
In Florida, the legislature has created a guardian advocacy statute, Fla. Stat. 393.12, to address the need for a person to become a guardian advocate. While is may seem complicated or even burdensome to go through the process of becoming a guardian advocate, it is essential for the care and safety of the developmentally disabled child or young adult.
The second step, if not already done, is to apply for government benefits. If your child is already over the age of 18, a guardian advocacy is needed for a parent to legally apply for these on behalf of their child. The governmental benefits may include procuring Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Administration, Medicaid benefits, or even benefits from the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). As part of being appointed a guardian advocate, the court order appointing the guardian advocate should enumerate the express power of being able to apply for these government benefits for your autistic or developmentally disabled child.
To assist in this process, hiring a competent and experienced attorney to guide you through the paperwork, background checks, and court hearing can be invaluable when talking about the safety and welfare of your developmentally disabled child or young adult.