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Take steps to protect your adult autistic child

Do you have an autistic child who is about to celebrate his or her 18th birthday?

If so, there's more reason to fear than celebrate. Now that he or she is legally an adult, you aren't in as strong of a position to protect him or her from the rest of the world.

Because autism has so many different facets and degrees, it's difficult to know ahead of time what your young autistic will be able to handle when it comes to his or her personal finances and other decisions. Some autistic people can't handle even basic financial transactions or go to a doctor's visit alone. Others might be fine handling spending money, but unable to understand how a budget works or figure out how to navigate more complex issues like Social Security entitlements and tax returns. They might be able to adequately discuss their problems with a doctor, but unable to handle important details like filling out insurance forms and getting their own prescriptions.

If you think that your soon-to-be-adult autistic can handle some of his or her own decisions but not others, it might be time to discuss a financial and health care power of attorney as part of your special needs planning.

A health care power of attorney can allow you to speak on your son or daughter's behalf and make decisions about his or her medical treatment whenever necessary. A financial power of attorney will allow you to do the same for his or her finances so that you can protect your child from anyone who might try to take advantage of his or her condition.

Both of these are good options if you believe that your child can handle some, but not all, of the responsibilities of adulthood. They are less restrictive than something like a guardianship, which would also require the court's evaluation and agreement. If your child is on the more functional end of the spectrum, a guardianship would also be unnecessary.

If you're hoping to maximize your child's sense of independence and freedom while still being there as a support person, consider discussing the idea of a power of attorney today.

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