As a single parent to two children with special needs, specifically autism, I often worry about what will happen to my kids if something happens to me. When they were young, I did everything in my power to help them. They received speech, occupational and behavior therapy; I read every book and consulted every expert, as any parent would do. As a licensed psychologist, I took it one step further and started to specialize in assessing children with developmental disabilities. However, the reality is, I will not always be around to be the helicopter parent I have become. I, like most other parents in this situation, must face the hard facts of having an adult child with disabilities.

Obviously, no one is going to care for my children like myself. This being said, there are some steps that we (myself and other parents) can take to make the transition a little easier. The first step is to emotionally prepare yourself for that 18th birthday. It comes up way too fast! I talk to a number of parents who have teenage children with special needs and have not given it a thought. It is a difficult conversation to have, but a necessary one.

The next step is to find out what can be done at that 18th birthday. There are options, including power of attorney (POA) or guardianship. These are very important, even for medical care—particularly in the year of COVID-19. I had a family in my office who had a 19-year-old with disabilities go to the emergency room for severe abdominal pain during COVID. They would not let anyone else other than the patient enter the hospital. Because mom did not have guardianship or a power of attorney, she was not allowed to go with her daughter. The daughter did not understand what was going on and left against medical advice before some essential tests were performed. If her parents had power of attorney or guardianship, this would not have happened. This is also the case with education. If the parent does not have a POA or guardianship, then the “adult child” does not have to let parents in on educational decisions, such as signing himself out of school.

There are a lot of other things to consider such as social security and other agencies that may be able to help. Aaron’s House, a non-profit support group, helps parents who are dealing with usually adult children with either developmental disabilities or mental health problems find hope and support (aaronshouse.info). There are other professionals as well such as attorneys who deal with ABLE accounts and special needs trusts. These types of products can ensure your child has the resources they need after you are gone.

On May 11, 2021, myself; Jody Zellner, financial advisor; and Michael Brundage, attorney at law from Safety Harbor, will be presenting an expert panel on how you can plan ahead for the transition to adulthood. The presentation will be held at Maggiano’s in Westshore Mall, Tampa, at 7pm. Please visit BaileyPsychologyGroup.com to register.

Contact Bailey Psychology Group at 813-720-7411 or BaileyPsychologyGroup.com. Our team of counselors and therapists know the struggles you are dealing with and can help.