What happens to a special needs child after high school ends, he/she turns age 18 and becomes an adult? The Arc Mid-South recently educated a packed room at the University of Memphis about the legal and educational options available to young people with disabilities as they transition into adulthood.
The “I Matter” Conference began with Life, Education, Training Skills (LETS) class facilitator Mildred Shores giving an inspirational talk about the various struggles she had confronted. An “I Matter” poem she read was a great example of how parents and caregivers struggle to be understood and often feel like no one understands the issues they face.
Judge Kathleen Gomes from Shelby County Probate Court spoke about conservatorship, which is how parents can legally manage their disabled child’s legal, medical and educational affairs after he/she turns age 18. Once a petition for conservatorship is filed with the court, the judge will appoint an independent third party to investigate and make sure that the prospective conservatee is truly disabled. Medical records must be gathered and affidavits signed by doctors; the process generally takes about six weeks, Gomes said.
Elderly parents need to request that their grown children or another trusted person be granted the power of attorney before the parents become incapacitated, attorney Ruby Wharton cautioned. “Don’t wait until it’s too late,” such as after the parent has had a stroke and is incapable of making decisions, she said.
Deborah Brooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney, recommended revisiting a power of attorney every few years since lives and circumstances often change. She spoke about special needs trusts, explaining that such legal structures are not counted as assets so that a disabled person also may continue to receive Social Security Insurance (SSI) or TennCare. These supplemental trusts may not be used for food or shelter-related expenses, but they help provide a higher quality of life by paying for such things as recreation, vacations and pet care.
Attorney Robert Donati shared his expertise with SSI, which is granted after the government agency examines a child’s level of functioning and determines that he/she is severely impaired physically or mentally. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is available to claimants with disabilities who have paid a sufficient amount into the Social Security Trust Fund.
Dr. Chrisann Schiro-Geist, director of the University of Memphis Institute on Disability, said U of M is among 250 U.S. colleges and universities that offer postsecondary programs for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Such programs typically last for two to 2 ½ years and help the students attain their maximum level of independence as they prepare to work in environments where other people are fully functional, she said.
Step Up Scholarships are available for students with intellectual disabilities who want to attend the program, said Maurice Williams, associate director of the university’s TigerLIFE program.
Click here to see Judge Kathleen Gomes and Beverly Mathews appearance on WREG’s “Live at 9” on April 26, 2016 to discuss the “I Matter” Conference.