Individuals on the spectrum display great differences in decision-making capability. But regardless of their personal capacity, when they reach the age of 18 (19 or 21 in some states), they are legally recognized as adults. That means that, unless legal action is taken, parents will no longer be able to make decisions on their behalf regarding medical care, finances, education and other important matters.

The goal, of course, is to minimize any interference with someone’s independence, while ensuring their health, safety, and protection from exploitation. If your family member needs at least some assistance, there are various legal approaches to consider.

  • Full guardianship – Requires a court evaluation and transfers full responsibility for medical, financial, residential and many personal care decisions to another party. In some states, financial authority must be invested in a conservator, who may be the same individual as the guardian.
  • Limited guardianship– Restricts the guardian’s responsibilities. The guardian might, for instance, be charged with making choices that relate to healthcare and housing, with the ward retaining all other decision-making capability. Requires court appointment.
  • Healthcare proxy – Names an agent empowered to make medical decisions on the individual’s behalf. No court intervention is required, and the agreement can be dissolved at any time.
  • Financial power of attorney -Without relinquishing control over personal finances, an individual grants an agent decision-making authority for the purpose of assisting in financial management. No court action required.
  • Educational Power of Attorney – Authorizes another party to have access to the individual’s educational records and to make decisions concerning Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and post-high school education. No court action needed.