My son Tyler turned 18 this month. With that came a whole new world called guardianship. What a weird feeling it was. Being in a courtroom. Sitting across the room from my son, who was sitting at a table with an attorney he just met. Answering questions and waiting for a judge to grant me guardianship over my son.
When your child turns 18, they are considered an adult and expected to make decisions about things like schooling, medical treatment, housing, jobs, finances etc. Guardianship is a legal process where someone asks the court to appoint them to do these things when the person is unable to manage his or her affairs themselves due to a “disability” like autism. There is a lot of paperwork, a court visitor, and finally, you end up going before a judge. Your now “adult child” gets appointed a public defender. The court visitor comes to your house and meets your child, and asks them and you a bunch of questions. We had a very kind lady who knew a lot about autism and was very helpful in explaining the process. If your son is very much impacted by autism like mine, it doesn’t take very long for someone to see that he needs a guardian.
It’s really not something I was much aware of before he was close to 18. It wasn’t mentioned to me in any of the school meetings as he was growing up. I now know I should have asked more questions and started forming an adult transition plan involving the school and other agencies starting at age 14. Luckily, the kids and I have a wonderful care coordinator that has helped me through the steps. Stone Soup Group also has information and training available to educate you on the guardianship process.
The whole court/trial took about 15 minutes. The judge asked questions and asked why Tyler needed a guardian. The report from the court visitor showed that he was impacted enough by autism that he definitely needed someone to be responsible for his daily needs, finances, etc. The judge was kind. It helped take away some of my nervousness. Everyone agreed I was the obvious choice for guardian. The judge said that he was really glad Tyler came because it was nice to put a face to the person they were making decisions for in court. He said around 90% of the time they never get to meet the individual. (It is really important when possible to have the individual present in the courtroom. It’s their future you are making decisions about. It’s good to have them there even if they don’t fully understand what is going on. That way they become more than just a name or number on a piece of paper.)
Papers were signed, and soon I will get an official copy in the mail saying that I am his guardian. Every year I will file a report about Tyler. It seems like a lot of paperwork and process but the system is in place to protect the individual with the disability so that it was final. It was me saying in court that he would not be an independent adult and able to care for himself. That part caused many tears over the months I was getting ready for court. The process was painless but the finality of it for me was painful. When I look at him I still see a three-year-old running around chasing bubbles, and a 10-year-old playing with my sister’s dog. But he is an adult now. And he needs me more than ever.
So now, after being his mom for 18 years, I am a guardian. I will continue to do my best to care for, love, teach, and respect my son who experiences autism. He still my boy, and I’m still his mom.
When the court visitor asked Tyler if he knew what a guardian was he said, “Guardians of the Galaxy?” Yes Tyler, I will do my best to guard your galaxy and to keep you safe in your world. After all, “we are GROOT.”
This story is a contribution from Maria Pepperworth – mother, advocate and all around ROCKSTAR! Thank you Maria for contributing to our community and sharing your family story with us.