What Is the Best Legal Plan for my Special Needs Child?


When your child approaches adulthood and is set to go out into the world on his or her own, parents understandably worry about their wellbeing.  Did they do a good job preparing them?  Does their child have the necessary skills to support itself financially?  These concerns are even more crucial when the adult child has a special need such as autism, which is why it is a good idea to speak with a special needs lawyer and have an active legal plan that takes care of your special needs childs financial and medical situation.  Whether the child is capable of taking on all responsibilities or needs some guardianship, take the time to speak with a professional and know what your child can and cannot do on his or her own.

Assess Your Childs Capacity to Make Financial Decisions

One of the hardest things for any young adult to get a handle on when they first go out into the world on their own is the ability to make sound financial decisions; this is especially difficult for child with special needs, so it is important to take a look at how well they do making financial decisions before you make any guardianship decisions.  Its a good idea to make a checklist of how well you think they can handle this responsibility:        

  • How well did they perform in math in their classes?  What was the highest level they completed?
  • How well can your child read?
  • Will your child be employable?
  • What kind of financial skills do they already possess?  Do they have the ability to balance a checkbook?  Can they read a bank statement?  Can they make investment decisions?
  • Is your child able to make change at a store?
  • Are they employable?
  • Are they susceptible to financial exploitation?

When you take an honest look at your childs capacity to make these sorts of decisions without you, you can outline the best course of action for the future and their independence.

Can Your Child Make Personal Care Decisions?

Finances arent the only decisions your special needs child will have to make on their own.  They will have to make personal decisions that we may take for granted, but for a child on the autism spectrum, they can be difficult.  Something as simple as understanding a diagnosis can prove to be a challenge, depending on how functioning your child is.  Answer these questions for yourself in order to get a better idea of what your child will be faced with:

  • Can your child have a conversation with their doctor and understand the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plans?
  • Can your child drive a vehicle?
  • Can they live independently?
  • Can your child learn to vote and understand the consequences?
  • Can your child do everyday functions on their own, such as bathing, cooking, grooming, and dressing?

Once you answer these questions for yourself, talk to a special needs law attorney no later than two months before your childs 18th birthday in order to decide upon a legal plan.

Understand the Different Legal Options Pertaining to Special Needs Children

How your special needs lawyer chooses to proceed with how to handle your childs financial and medical well-being will depend greatly on your childs legal capacity. In the legal realm, capacity pertains to the ability to understand, reason, and appreciate the consequences of ones actions.  Overall, there are three ways to legally proceed:

Legal Documents

If your child is high functioning, the lawyer may be able to process legal documents for your child that will detail a financial and medical plan.

The documents you should be familiar with are as follows:

  1. a)     Durable Power of Attorney: identifies a trusted person who has legal authority to make various financial decisions when a person is incapacitated, including paying bills, authorizing bank transactions, or filing tax returns.
  2. b)    Designation of Health Care Surrogate: identifies a trusted person to make various medical decisions in the event that your child is unable to give informed consent, including authorizing a medical procedure, authorize discharge from hospital or transfer to another facility, or change residence.
  3. c)     HIPAA Authorization: states the Health Care Surrogate can access confidential health care information under the HIPAA medical privacy law.

Guardian Advocate Proceeding

Guardian advocate proceeding allows your special needs child to retain the highest level of independence in their decision-making.  The goal of this court-assisted proceeding is to assign a parent or guardian as a Guardian Advocate to assist and support a special needs child with their decisions.  The adult child retains their legal rights while the Guardian Advocate has the legal authority to assist in medical or financial decision-making.  There are some limitations to this option, however.  For example, if the adult child has another mental health diagnosis separate from their autism, like bipolar disorder, the court may prevent you from filing a Guardian Advocate Proceeding.

Guardianship Proceeding


If your child with special needs has a lower capacity, your only option may be a guardianship proceeding.  This option appoints a legal guardian to make financial and medical decisions.  This proceeding may be right for your adult childs situation if their ability to make decisions is hindered by a physical, cognitive, or mental disability.  The adult child loses some or all rights (depending on the capacity of the individual), which are granted to the guardian.  These rights include:

  • The right to vote
  • The right to marry
  • The right to contract
  • Apply for government benefits
  • Make medical decisions
  • Determine residence
  • Seek employment
  • The right to sue or defend
  • The ability to manage real or personal property

Planning ahead and creating a plan for your special needs adult child can really alleviate worry and unneeded headaches that may come up if you havent figured out what to do.  Talking through the next phase of your childs life with a special needs lawyer will help give you peace of mind and give your child the right amount of freedom.

How to Socialize Kids with Disabilities


One of the biggest challenges of being a parent of a child with a special need like autism is helping them socialize with other children.  Socialization is an anxiety point for children with these sorts of needs and negative encounters with others can hamper social development.  Working in small steps, discussing plans with teachers, finding groups that share your child’s interest, and employing behavioral therapy methods are all ways that you can best help your special needs child socialize.

Talk With Teachers

One of the struggles of being a parent of a child with special needs is the fact that you can’t be with them all hours of the day.  Once they are old enough to go to school, you are leaving them in the hands of the educators and administration of the local school system.  Communicating with your child’s teacher can be a great way to build a relationship and to get them on board with a socialization plan.  Discuss your child’s needs with them and how best they can get them integrated with the rest of the children.

Work in Small Steps

Socialization can cause anxiety in children with special needs, so it is important to ease them into situations that are out of their comfort zone.  The best way to get these children to improve is to build upon positive interactions, regardless of how small.  For example, try taking them for a walk around your neighborhood; this will allow them to interact with neighbors with a simple “Hello” or polite wave.  These are low risk interactions that should yield positive responses.  From there, you can build to closer, one-on-one interactions with children their age and eventually to group settings.

Find Children with Similar Interests

As your child grows, you will be able to identify the activities that they gravitate towards.  Whether they have an interest in art, music, or any other fun activity, when you figure out what makes them tick, it’s important to encourage it and find children that share that common interest.  As children with special needs, such as autism, tend to have a tough time socializing, a good way to break that initial wall is to introduce a commonality between your child and others.  If you enroll them in an after-school art program or music class (or whatever it is they like to do), it can help them work past their initial anxieties and pursue a relationship centered on that common interest.

Employing Behavioral Therapy


An effective way to help your special needs child socialize is to identify the challenging behaviors that your child may present and the factors that may cause them.  This is one of the cornerstones of Applied Behavioral Analysis, one of the most common therapy strategies for child with autism.  Behavioral therapy works by identifying these triggers and devises an intervention plan that works to produce more positive outcomes to social situations.  This therapy is centered on positive reinforcement of good behavior and is specific to your child’s needs.  Once a plan is created, it is a good idea to train caregivers and teachers on how to best implement the intervention plan for full effect.

Socializing a child with special needs can be a struggle, but it’s not impossible.  If you have a plan and employ some assistance from the child’s educators and behavioral therapist, you can help your child assimilate well with others.  Remember to reinforce good behavior and game plan for negative behavior.

The Best Special Education Programs in California

When it comes to special education programs in California, there are some schools that have set themselves apart from the pack on account of the high-quality education they provide to students.

Special needs students are a diverse group, and there is no one-size-fits-all format, so the sorts of programs that make the grade as far as excellence goes pull out all the stops to help students.

According to the Overview of Special Education in California from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, approximately 10% of California’s students have disabilities that affect their education, and this no doubt means that there is a definite need for quality special education programs in the state.

Read on to learn about the best special education programs in California. While there are more than are contained in this blog post, the list will nonetheless give you a sample of top programs.

Excelsior Academy

Situated in San Diego, Excelsior Academy is a private school that aims to provide a safe and nurturing environment where students can become independent, thinking, literate, and productive. Students from K-12+ with learning disabilities, Asperger’s, ADHD, and more attend the school that offers not only a thorough academic education, but also a transition program that it calls Pathway to Independence. With this transition program, students study various transition and independent living skills such as communication, vocational, motor/mobility, and more.

Westview School

Westview School is based in Los Angeles and, as part of The Help Group continuum of schools, seeks to provide a nurturing and supportive environment to help special needs children to achieve scholastic and personal success. Westview, a private, nonprofit institution, services students with learning disabilities, high functioning autism, ADD, and emotional issues. Westview’s approach involves providing individualized attention, small classroom sizes, extracurricular activities, and counselling services for additional academic and personal support.


Chartwell School

Located in Seaside, Chartwell School caters to K-12 students with a variety of special needs. It aims at empowering students who have language-based learning differences such as dyslexia, and it seeks to offer students the skills and coping mechanisms they need to do well in college and beyond post-secondary school. While Chartwell offers a program that covers the same material as any other school in the state, it also adds a component that includes research-based methodologies to help students to overcome their learning difficulties. As well, it has a student-to-faculty ratio of about 5:1, which means that students get individualized attention.

Alameda County Special Education

Alameda County Special Education is a public school system in the Bay Area. While the student-to-teacher ratio of 25:1 isn’t as favorable as it is at many private special education schools in California, Alameda County Special Education nonetheless offers a quality education to its approximately 4,000 students.

Carmack Elementary School

Situated in San Bernardino, Carmack Elementary School is a public school with around 75 children from grades KG-8. Its mission is to provide instruction needed for students to develop the self-esteem, skills, knowledge, and understanding needed to achieve personal and social development regardless of handicapping condition. Its “Learning, Achieving Succeeding!” tagline underscores the school’s commitment to helping students to reach their full potential.

Again, there are plenty of special education programs in California that are geared towards serving students with special needs. While these programs offer excellence for special needs students, every school in California is required to follow your child’s individual education plan. If you need help getting your child the resources they need, an advocate can provide your family with the representation you need.

Animals as Therapy for Special Needs Families


Whoever was the first to say that dog is man’s best friend, probably didn’t know how true that statement actually was because a canine’s loyalty, while admirable, is just scratching the surface.

When it comes to special needs families, dogs and other types of animals can offer important therapeutic benefits that can make a huge quality-of-life difference.

Animal therapy is a term that refers to the interaction between a person and a specially trained animal. This sort of therapy is used to help people to recover from or to cope with health issues or disabilities. While canines and felines happen to be the most popular therapy animals, other animals like horses, guinea pigs, and even fish can be used for this purpose. The animal type selected will depend on factors such as the therapeutic objectives of the patient’s treatment plan.

Physical Benefits

Whether young or young at heart, your special needs family member can derive physical benefits courtesy of animal therapy. For instance, horseback riding can help to strengthen muscles. In fact the North American Riding for the the Handicapped Association, which happens to recommend horseback riding for people with physical, learning, and emotional disabilities, says that the activity can help participants to enhance their muscle tone, coordination, balance, motor skills, and posture. An interesting point to make is that the rocking motion that occurs when people ride horses is akin to the pelvic motion made while walking. It has also been demonstrated that using horses for rehabilitative or therapeutic purposes can help people who have mobility issues to improve muscle tone to the point where they may be able to learn how to walk using a walker.


Animal therapy involving dolphins can give special needs individuals the motivation to develop various skills. For instance, children in therapy sessions led by a professional might be given the chance to swim with or pet a dolphin if they properly demonstrate a specific skill. Because animal therapy is generally regarded as a fun activity by children, these children can become motivated. This can help them to complete the treatments faster and with fewer hiccups along the way.



Dogs can provide important companionship benefits for all member of your family. When it comes to special needs, however, dogs can take on an added degree of importance. For instance, they can be specially trained in order to help visually impaired persons who want to maintain some independence by safely going out and about. Some experts actually insist that dogs provide the sort of companionship needed for the development of kids who have disabilities.

Emotional & Social Benefits

Pet therapy can help special needs persons to increase their self-esteem, improve their ability to interact with other people, enhance their verbal communication skills, encourage them to exercise, lessen their anxiety, decrease their isolation, and develop their nurturing skills. As a result, there are many reasons why therapy animals can play a special role in special needs families

Animals as therapy for special needs families is a good idea. If you believe that a family member could use a therapy animal, then ask his or her medical professional for recommendations and a referral to get the ball rolling.