18 with Autism: How do I protect my adult child with special needs?

If your child has autism, you’ve probably become an expert at wading through doctors’ offices, therapy groups, and IEP meetings. Most schools have a system to transition your special needs child to a job or new school. But there is a gap!

The UCF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities reminds parents that “individuals over the age of 18 are considered their own guardians unless [there is] documentation of guardianship.” Blowing out those 18 candles means your child is an adult who can sign contracts, open bank accounts, and even make their own medical decisions. As parents, you may be concerned about your child who is developmentally behind for their age. But there is a solution!

Guardian Advocacy

A guardian advocate can be appointed for adults with Intellectual Disability (IQ less than 70), Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Spina Bifida, Down’s Syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, or Prader-Willi syndrome that manifested before the age of 18 (F.S. § 393.063(12)).

Your child’s previous diagnosis of a developmental disability can help a Florida court determine if your child needs continued assistance with decisions, per Florida Statutes Chapter 744.3215, such as:

  • To apply for government benefits;
  • To manage, give away, or buy/sell property;
  • To choose where they live;
  • To consent to medical and mental health treatment; or
  • To make decisions about his or her social environment or other social aspects of his or her life.

Protecting Your Child: Requirements of a Guardian Advocate

The Florida courts are very protective of vulnerable people, such as adults with special needs who need additional assistance. While anyone can apply to be a guardian advocate, the court will ensure that the guardian advocate meets the following statutory requirements:

  • 18 year or older, and of sound mind;
  • no history of felonies;
  • no adjudication of abuse, abandonment, or neglect of a child;
  • clean background check; and
  • completed guardian advocacy training.

How do I know if I need to be the guardian for my special needs child?

Once you apply to be a guardian advocate, the courts may look at past IEPs, 504s, and other documentation from doctors and therapists to help you determine how much assistance your special needs child requires. To determine if your child needs this help, consider the following:

  • Can your child make their own doctors’ appointments and make informed medical decisions for themself?
  • Does your child have the ability to ride a bike or drive to places like the grocery store or work?
  • Can your child hold down a job and/or manage their own money?
  • Does your child maintain their own hygiene, such as brushing their own teeth and hair, bathing properly, choosing clean clothes to wear every day?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you might want to consider applying to be a guardian advocate for your special needs child when they turn 18 years old. The process can even be started six months before their 18th birthday to ensure there is no gap in support.

Contact us today to speak with one of our experienced guardianship attorneys who can help you with the process.