Be Ready Your Child's 18 and 22nd Birthdays 
Take Charge of Your Older Child's Changing Needs 
By: Lisa Jo Rudy, Guide
Updated June 20, 2013
If the media is reporting accurately, there are an awful lot of parents out there who are surprised and appalled when their child with autism turns 18 and becomes a legal adult -- and even more surprised and appalled when they turn 22, and age out of the educational system. There are plenty of surprising things about autism, but this should not be one of them. Bottom line, children with autism do, in fact, become adults with autism. Whether or not you’re ready and set, here it comes.
What can you do to prepare for those inevitable moments when (1) your child becomes a legal adult and (2) your child ages out of the educational system? Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Plan ahead for your child’s 18th birthday. Even if your child with autism behaves as if he or she were much younger, the reality is that an 18 year old is legally an adult. That means, unless you have planned ahead, you have no legal right to manage your child’s finances, healthcare, or lifestyle choices. If you wish to continue to manage your child’s affairs, you’ll need to apply either for legal guardianship or have your child provide you with a healthcare proxy, financial proxy, and power of attorney. Do this immediately, as a medical emergency after your child’s 18th birthday could become a nightmare if you don’t have the legal right to make decisions on his or her behalf.
  • Plan ahead for your child’s 22nd birthday. On that date – even if it falls in the middle of the school year – your child no longer qualifies for educational programs under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). What will happen next? If you’ve been working with your school district and Vocational Rehab to provide your child with gainful or at least regular employment, you’ll be all set. If not, you may have a full time adult on your hands – and no options for how best to keep him or her engaged, employed, and happy.
  • Set up a special needs trustThis is a legal entity that allows your child to have access (through a trustee) to funds you make available – but those funds are not considered relative to social security and other entitlements for people with disabilities. Don’t have extra funds to put into a special needs trust? That’s ok: you can set up the legal entity quickly and easily, and then make the trust the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. That way, your child will have funds to pay for his or her needs after you’re gone.