Every time I see or hear the number 18 my stomach starts to feel queasy. We all know that 18 is the magic number in the eyes of the law when a child officially becomes an adult at which time they are free to make a whole host of questionable choices on their own…and there is nothing you can do about it. Or is there? I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the thought of my son Shane turning 18 and possibly allowing him to make important decisions on his own. It was hard enough when my oldest son Matt turned 18 in 2017 at which he was only part way through his senior year in high school. With Matt, my wife and I made a point to discuss this pending rite of passage and explained the benefits and pitfalls of becoming an adult. We were sure to convey to him that just because you turn 18 doesn’t mean that the clouds part and you are instantly filled with all the knowledge that help you make responsible decisions from that day forward. It was important to set the ground rules for post-18th birthday life in our house and reiterate that otherwise obvious fact that the same house rules still applied. In addition, my wife and I were somewhat compelled to stress that quitting school would not be an option just in case he had some cobwebs loose in his brain cavity. With children as with adults, it is always important that everyone understand the ground rules and expectations so they can meet their obligations as a member of a family and the community. What do you do in the case of a disabled or impaired child? Plan ahead!!
The act of planning ahead can seem daunting in the beginning but anything that is worthwhile in life always is. The first step is to honestly assess your child and their current development needs. This can be tricky as you don’t want to convince yourself that they will automatically be ready to do all that is required to be fully independent but you don’t want to diminish your assessment of their skillset to the point where you don’t believe that they can every function independently. I would stress the need for cautious optimism while trying to focus on their current needs that will help them reach the holy grail of independence. My wife and I recently created a list of what we believe are Shane’s strengths and weaknesses that we use that list to form our plan of attack. Positive reinforcement can be one of the best tools in your toolbox when it comes to working on points of weakness. Using examples of success for a child can allow them to see that they are capable of overcoming many disadvantages. In addition, this teaches the child how to look at situations that may be difficult and build their skills to overcome those challenges.
My anxiety level spiked a bit after Matt was hospitalized shortly before his 18th birthday. He was under 18 so he was transferred to another hospital and was treated as a minor and then he turned 18 a few days later. Given that he was still a minor on the date of service, I filled out and signed all the paperwork. After receiving several bills and explanation of benefits from my insurance company, I found that the hospital and doctors couldn’t talk to me without a signed document from Matt granting them permission to speak with me. In the span of a few days, I was completely isolated as a parent from finding out information about my son who was now an “adult”. This experience really got me thinking seriously about Shane and the need for some type of legal supervision that would allow my wife and me to continue to help Shane until such time as he is ready to be in control. There are various legal options that are available to help parents retain a certain amount of control when their disabled child becomes an adult. There are pros and cons not the least of all is cost vs benefit for each of the options and a family would have to determine which may be best suited to their needs. While it is never too early to start planning for this eventuality, I would say that it would be most beneficial within 18 months of a child turning 18. This seems to be enough time to allow parents to accurately forecast their child’s needs and make an informed decision when seeking some form of guardianship. I would suggest reviewing the information using the links below and doing your own research to plan for your child’s eventual needs.