Among the biggest milestones in parenting a child with special needs is his eighteenth birthday, legally known as the age of majority in Virginia. Until then, the parents(s) or guardian made medical and educational decisions for the child. At eighteen, every person has the legal right to make these decisions for themselves.
For a typical child this is usually nothing more that a recognition of new rights and privileges, such as voting. But for the special needs child, this transfer of rights can be a daunting procedure and many parents put off this important task. But unless the parent of guardian takes action, the student who has reached the age of eighteen will be presumed to be a competent adult.
“The important thing parents need to do, is to start preparing for this [transition] early,” said Carol Tolbert, transition specialist with the Stafford County Public Schools. “Although we alert the parents of high school students, that’s really late. It would be better for parents of middle school students to start preparing so that they can get on waiting lists and start saving for the costs of obtaining guardianship.”
The waiting list Ms. Tolbert is referring to is the Intellectual Disabilities Statewide Waiver waitlist. This Medicaid Waiver provides future services for housing, transportation, respite care and other needs. Be aware that the wait is at least five years, sometimes ten, for these services and the waiver is not transferable from state to state.
If your child is not intellectually disabled, but will not be able to live and/or work independently when they leave school, apply for a Developmental Disabilities Medicaid Waiver.
The next step is to apply for Social Security Disability Income. Since your child is an adult, he is entitled to receive SSI. Ms. Tolbert warns that it is not uncommon to be denied SSI initially, so be prepared to apply more than once.
Applying for guardianship is necessary to insure that your child will not be taken advantage of. Many parents mistakenly believe that they will continue be able to make decisions for their child but this is not the case. For information on guardianship, call the Virginia Guardianship Association at (804)261-4046
Finally, parents and/or guardians should go to the local Department of Motor Vehicles for a photo identification. This is also the time, if the student is a male, to register for the Selective Service System. this is required by law for every male living in the U.S., regardless of disability. Failure to do so may result in penalties and fines.
Knowing how to maneuver through the bureaucracy can lessen the anxiety. “Many parents put this off because it’s an emotional issue,” said Ms. Tolbert. “It’s hard to think of your child as being an adult.”
But although childhood ends, and parenting still continues, a new relationship begins.