Wondering What IEP Stands For? Here’s Your Comprehensive Guide to IEP’s

iep stands for

What IEP Stands For:

IEP stands for Individualized Educational Plan and is a documented plan developed to ensure that a child attending public schools with a disability identified under the law receives the appropriate specialized instruction and related services. The IEP defines how a child should be serviced in three main categories according to the Center of Parent & Information Resources:

  • General education
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Nonacademic activities

This requirement began in 1975 with the passage of Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA). This law required school districts to provide specialized learning opportunities for students with special needs. The IEP is tailored to each student’s specific needs and is developed in conjunction with school officials and the child’s parents.

In this guide, we’ll look at how to determine if your child should have an IEP, what the IEP should cover, and how to be the best advocate for your child.

iep stands for

IEP Eligibility

There are 13 disability categories that will qualify a child for special needs instruction and resources through the public school system. These categories include autism diagnosis, visual impairment, and traumatic brain injury. The SpecialEducationGuide.com specifies the complete list of categories.

Parents seeking additional assistance for a special needs child must simply request an evaluation from your child’s teacher or the school’s principal. This will get the ball rolling.

All children with disabilities do not necessarily require an IEP, but if the evaluation determines that your child’s disability presents an impediment to the learning process, the next step will be to develop the IEP.

Developing an IEP

Once an evaluation determines that a child qualifies to receive the special instruction, the first step is for parents and school administrators to formally prepare the Individualized Education Plan.

The first IEP meeting must by law occur no more than 30 days after the evaluation. Each IEP must also be reviewed annually.

The IEP meetings should include the school’s special education teacher, a district administrator, a general education teacher, and a representative to interpret the data. Additionally, the child’s parents or legal guardian should absolutely attend.

By law, the IEP must contain specific components. As detailed on the US Department of Education’s website, the IEP must specify:

  • Current performance
  • Annual goals
  • Special education and related services
  • Participation with nondisabled children
  • Participation in state and district-wide tests
  • Dates and places
  • Transition service needs
  • Needed transition services
  • Measured progress

IEP’s are generally very long documents that contain details related to how each specific child’s specialized education plan will occur. Parents will know exactly what resources their child has access to and, through annual meetings, the progress and performance related to goals should be reviewed. This helps all involved ensure that the current plan is producing the best results for the child.

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Advocating for your Child

Parents who are not satisfied with the proposed IEP and/or placement do not have to provide consent. Parents should discuss any concerns with the IEP team and work toward an agreeable solution. However, if this step is unsuccessful, parents can seek additional assistance through an independent evaluation, additional testing, or mediation.

Parents can also file a complaint with the district if the above remedies come to no avail. Remember, you are your child’s most effective advocate. Ensuring that your child receives the appropriate specialized education is an vital responsibility in the IEP process.

A Guide to Services Provided at a Los Angeles Regional Center

Los Angeles Regional Center

The Los Angeles Regional Center offers a wide range of services for residents with developmental disabilities. The Regional Center is also an essential element in planning and coordinating these services, as well as ensuring those with developmental disabilities have access.

Everyone who uses the Los Angeles Regional Center services has access to an in-person centered planning team. Team members often include the person with developmental disabilities, their family, center staff and administrators, as well as all those asked to be part of the team.

This team is vital in the reception of services. The in-person centered planning team serves as the direct channel of support and monitoring. They ensure that those with developmental disabilities maintain their voice in all decision processes.

Eligibility for Services

In order to be eligible for the services provided by the Los Angeles Regional Center, a person must have been diagnosed with a disability prior to turning 18 years of age. This disability must be in accordance with Section 4512 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC).

Once eligibility is determined, after a free diagnosis and assessment, a case manager is assigned to assist in the planning of services offered by the Regional Center.


Los Angeles Regional Center Services List

Information and Referrals

Regional Centers support those with developmental disabilities and their families with information regarding the diagnosis, assessment, planning, and monitoring of services the center provides. They also have a free referral process to ensure all have access to the services provided by the city, state, and government.

Assessment and Diagnosis

The assessment and diagnosis of anyone with a referred developmental disability is also free. The Regional Center provides this service in order to conclude if services are needed to improve quality of life and opportunity.


Counseling services are also provided by the Los Angeles Regional Center for those with developmental disabilities and their family members. Support services for families are also offered by the center.

Early Intervention Services for at Risk Infants

Children between the ages of zero to 36 months at risk of having a developmental disability may also qualify for Regional center services. These criteria are listed in Section 95014 of the California Government Code, of the California Early Intervention Services Act.

Training and Education

In an effort to support those with disabilities and their families, Los Angeles Regional Center services include training and education on identified disabilities, as well as information for family members on the program and disability.

Individualized Planning

The Regional Center develops each service to fit the needs of each adult or child with developmental disabilities. They also tailor the individualized plan to better help the family support the needs of their disabled family member.

Lifelong Planning and Monitoring

The individualized plan for those who are eligible for services extends to lifelong planning and monitoring. The in-person centered planning team looks at short and long-term development needs, and monitors interventions to ensure maximum success on outcomes.

24 Hour Out of Home Care

If out of home care is needed to ensure the safety and well being of an adult or child with developmental disabilities, the Regional Center will facilitate these needs in accordance with state law.

Community Education

The Los Angeles Regional Center is also committed to community education about developmental disabilities. They continue to do community outreach, encompassing community assistance for the services they offer.

Nearly all services and support offered by the Regional Center are free. There are some costs shared for 24 Hour Out of Home Care for minors with disabilities. These fees are often adjusted depending on income, outlined by the Parental Fee Program.  

A Guide to the Steps of the IEP Process

iep process

There are normally seven unique steps for the Individualized Education Program, or IEP process. This process is vital, as it is required for children in public schools to receive special education.

Mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all public schools are required to develop an IEP for each child with special needs. This is effective for children aged three through high school academia.

The IEP process steps may vary, however, depending on the school district the child is in and the needs of the child. IEP remains one of the most essential elements in ensuring all children with special needs get the highest education opportunities available.

The following are seven steps to the IEP process for children with special needs.

Step 1. Pre-Referral to IEP Process

The pre-referral in the IEP process is the foundational step that begins to match a child’s disabilities with potential interventions. This is important, as it is the groundwork for the child’s education path moving forward.

What are the main objectives of the pre-referral IEP process?

  • First, the child is evaluated to determine the challenges he or she may have.
  • Next, an evaluation is made on the educational changes made.
  • There is then a review of the educational interventions.
  • Lastly, the development of the child is observed with interventions in place.

One of the main objectives in the pre-referral step is to find out if the child with special needs can adjust to the general classroom setting.

This step also has teachers take action, trying out different teaching approaches to help the child adjust to the general classroom setting. If challenges persist, the next step in the IEP process is referral.

iep process

Step 2. Referral

Referrals in the IEP process can come from a number of people in a child’s life. Parents, doctors, and a school nurse can all initiate a referral.

“Parents, teachers, a counselor, a doctor or anyone else who suspects a child is struggling can request an evaluation,” according to Understood.org.

These referrals can come at any point in a child’s life. The tell-tail signs that a learning disability may be present is if a child acts out continually in class, has poor academic scoring, or consistently disrupts class time.

Once a parent, doctor, or school system professional initiates a referral, the IEP process continues to the next step of identification.

Step 3. Identification

Once the referral has been made, the next step in the IEP process is identification. What exactly is identification? It is similar to the pre-referral process, but far more in-depth.

A special assessment, or evaluation is initiated to conclude whether or not a child has a disability that would require special education services.

“By law, the initial evaluation of the child must be “full and individual”—which is to say, focused on that child and that child alone. The evaluation must assess the child in all areas related to the child’s suspected disability,” according to the Center for Parent Information and Resources.

This step in the IEP process includes assessing all aspects of the child’s life, at school and at home. This helps determine the specific services the child needs. Parents, family members, teachers, educational professionals, and school psychologists are all part of this assessment.

The Center for Parents Information and Resources explained that, “The evaluation results will be used to decide the child’s eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions about an appropriate educational program for the child.”

Step 4. Eligibility

After all information and data is compiled from the Identification step of the IEP process, it is used to determine the disability and special needs needed moving forward.

An IEP committee appointed by the school district handles these processes. The committee will determine what services or interventions are needed in order for a child with a disability to reach maximum educational growth.

The committee can also determine if the child is in fact in need of special needs services. They can in fact halt the IEP process here, returning the child back to the general classroom setting.

iep process

Step 5. Development

If the child is eligible for special needs services within the school system, the development of the IEP begins. Specialists, parents, school administrators, and educators are all gathered to make up the IEP team.

For many parents with a child recently diagnosed with a disability, the IEP process can be worrisome. Supplemental counseling for the family is often beneficial in this step in the process.

“Many of them would benefit from some type of family counseling. This is very important because they are going to play a big part in how the child with the disability will be able to adjust,” according to Kids Mental Health. “As the primary caregivers the role they play is huge and special training is often necessary and very helpful.”

During the development of the IEP, all resources needed to assist the child are discussed and placed into a very detailed plan of action. The child’s unique learning style is determined, as well as specific short and long term goals for the child’s educational advancement.

Step 6. Implementation

This step is when the IEP plan is put into place and executed. The needed accommodations are made for the child, including instructions and testing measures.

Parents are also not unsupported in this critical step either. There are normally a number of therapists, speech pathologists, and education/behavioral professionals on hand.

Step 7. Evaluation

Consistency is a hallmark when evaluating a child with special needs’ adjustment and progress after an IEP is implemented. Reviews are often mandated annually or every three years depending on the situation.

However, parents and teachers carry out the evaluation step in the IEP process more frequently than required. Since the overall goal is to determine the effectiveness of the IEP plan, continual assessment efforts are needed.

“Evaluation helps teachers to assess whether their teaching approaches are effective and to change or tune their practices accordingly,” according to the University of Kansas. “A well-researched and fully collaborative IEP will help students with disabilities to develop their capacities and to experience academic accomplishment–while benefiting the class by modeling and cultivating a more inclusive and differentiated educational experience for all students.”

If short and long terms are falling short, a revision to the plan is made to further assist in making the child’s educational growth a success.

Any IEP can be a long and worrisome process for parents and children. It is, however, an important aspect to any education system. All children deserve the chance to develop with their specific learning styles in mind. It is the dedication of parents and educators to facilitate these chances.

Why You Should Hire a Special Needs Lawyer For Behavioral Problems.

Special Needs Lawyer for Behavioral Problems

As parents we always want to make sure our children are getting the best. For parents of children with special needs, often that means making sure to have help from experts. Children with behavioral problems often gain some stigma, and it might be beneficial to hire a special needs lawyer to help make sure your child is getting all the help they need.

Hiring a special needs lawyer for behavioral problems can be especially beneficial in working to make sure your child’s educational needs are met.  Here are some ways a lawyer  can be beneficial for your child:

IEP Documents

The individualized education program (IEP) is meant to help children with special needs, such as behavioral problems, to receive the best educational experience. Hiring a special needs lawyer for behavioral problems can help make sure that your child is getting the most out of their education by helping you review their IEP. A lawyer should be well-versed in the latest laws and regulations when it comes to IEP documents. Thus, it would be best to create the program with a lawyer who knows the specific factors the program should address, as well as any updated information regarding IEP documents.

Acting As An Advocate

A special needs lawyer for behavioral problems can also work as an advocate for your child. In this way they can take some of the burden you might have when it comes to finding various programs and support for your child. As an advocate, a special needs lawyer works to make sure your child has the opportunity to get the help they need both inside and outside their school.

Legal Lingo and Paperwork

Hiring a special needs lawyer can also help you get through all the legal lingo and piled up paperwork that comes when applying for benefit programs. They will also know all the necessary programs that your child can apply for. Having a special needs lawyer can make such processes simple and easy for you.

Special Needs Lawyer for Behavioral Problems

Working As Mediator

As well as working as an advocate for your child, a special needs lawyer can also work as a mediator. If any issues should arise between you and your child’s school, a special needs lawyer can help ease the situation and keep things professional. They will be able to handle any issues much more objectively, so that your child is protected.

Connection To Other Resources

A special needs lawyer for behavioral problems can also be a door to other resources that would be beneficial and helpful for your child. Often these lawyers work closely with experts and professionals within the field, and they can connect you to them so that you can find the best resources available.

Overall, hiring a special needs lawyer for behavioral problems can help your child make sure they get the assistance they need. Since they can help take on a few of the roles you as a parent must play for your child, hiring a special needs lawyer is a great way to ease your burden.

How to Find the Best Special Needs Lawyer For Autism

Special Needs Lawyer for Autism

Deciding to hire a special needs lawyer for autism can be big decision for you and your family. The costs and the time it takes to find the right lawyer can be arduous. We know making the decision to find a lawyer may seem overwhelming, so here are some things you can do  to make the search easier.

Ask Around

Finding the right lawyer can be overwhelming, especially when looking for a specialized lawyer such as a special needs lawyer for autism. The best way to start your search is to ask around. Ask friends and family who might have had a positive experience with a special needs lawyer. This approach can help get your search started with some lawyers that you know get positive results. By asking people you already know about their experiences, you get a personalized and in-depth review of that lawyer.

Do Your Research

Another crucial step in the beginning of your search is to do your research and to research thoroughly. Along with asking close friends and family about their recommendations, you may also want to further research their recommendations and look for some outside options. Every special needs case can be different and what worked for your friend’s family might not necessarily work for you and your family. Researching lawyers is a great way to know what you are looking for and why you even might need a special needs lawyer to begin with.

Know Your Needs

Before even meeting with your potential lawyer you will want to know what your needs are, so that you can use their services effectively. Hiring a special needs lawyer can be costly, but knowing what you need beforehand can help you and your lawyer fill your needs. Most likely you will want to work with with them to create a specific trust such as a special needs trust. This is where a special needs lawyer for autism is the best choice, since they have the background knowledge and expertise to create a trust that can work for your child’s specific needs and future plans.

Special Needs Lawyer for Autism

Meet With Multiple Lawyers

Many lawyers offer the first consultation meeting free of charge. This gives you the freedom to meet with different special needs lawyers without having to pay for multiple meetings. Meeting with multiple lawyers is necessary to know which one might work best for you and your family’s needs. Meeting with them is also a great way to see how they interact with your family and your child. While you want someone who is an expert in their field, you also want someone who is understanding and gets along with your family as they are essentially acting as an advocate and representing you.

Ask Questions

At your meeting with the special needs lawyer you want to make sure to ask them questions. Prepare a list of concerns and questions that you can ask beforehand. Do not be afraid to ask any questions that pop up during the meeting, as you want to make sure you have all your concerns addressed before you hire them.

Hiring a special needs lawyer for autism can be a long and difficult process. However, taking the time to meet with lawyers and do your research will ensure that you are hiring the right lawyer for your family.

Why A Special Needs Lawyer For Cebrebral Palsy Can Transform Your Child’s Education

Special Needs Lawyer for Cerebral Palsy

Parents are always looking for the best educational opportunities for their children. Parents of children with special needs, like cerebral palsy, have especially unique considerations when it comes to their child’s educational needs. Often looking for the right school or program for your child is only half the battle. Once you find the school, you need to make sure you are getting the best out of their services and working with them in a professional way. This is where a special needs lawyer for cerebral palsy can help to make sure your child’s education is a meaningful and educational experience. Here are some reasons why hiring a special needs lawyer can be transformative for your child’s education:

They Are Experts in Education Laws

A special needs lawyer for cerebral palsy is an expert on the ins and outs of education laws. They are thoroughly versed in the various rules and regulations. Often they are up to date with the latest changes in education laws, which most parents are not updated with. Hiring a specialized expert can help make sure you are knowledgeable of the most recent changes in education laws.

They Are a Connection to Specialized Programs and Organizations

Special needs lawyers for cerebral palsy will often work with other experts in the field. Thus, they are the best way to build connections with advocates as well as programs and organizations. Your lawyer can help you get in touch with important programs or organizations, which can help your child. They can also connect you with essential support groups that can help you learn more about other services and educational programs your child can benefit from.

Special Needs Lawyer for Cerebral Palsy

They Can Work With Your IEP

An individualized education program (IEP) is meant to help your child get the best educational experience possible. Working with your child’s school to set up an IEP can be an arduous process. An expert such as a special needs lawyer for cerebral palsy can help make sure that your IEP considers all the best practices for a child with cerebral palsy. Going over your IEP with a special needs lawyer is a great step in protecting your child’s education.

They Can Protect Your Child’s Education

A special needs lawyer can work as a mediator between you and your child’s school if any issues might arise during your child’s time there. Special needs lawyers for cerebral palsy are experts in your child’s specific needs, so they can make sure that your child’s experience at the school is working to keep your child learning and comfortable in the school.

They Can Help With Financial Aspects of Education

Although there are many different programs for students with cerebral palsy in public schools, many parents might opt to send their children to a private school or homeschool them instead. In this case, a special needs lawyer for cerebral palsy can be helpful for securing financial funds to pay for such education options. They can help you set up specific trusts for your child’s education and also help you look for funding opportunities.

A special needs lawyer for cerebral palsy is a great way to make sure your child is getting the most out of their education. Having their expertise can help you to work with your child’s school in a positive way as well as help you find all the best options for your child’s education.

The 5 Steps To Securing an Expert Special Needs Atorney

special needs attorney

Hiring an expert special needs attorney to help your special needs child  is a significant move in making sure their future is secure. A special needs attorney can be helpful in various aspects of your child’s life from financial planning to their education. However, before you hire a special needs attorney you want to go through these steps to ensure you are making a smart choice in who you hire.

Consider Your Needs

Before even meeting with an attorney, you and your family need to consider what legal needs you have. Creating a list of your needs can help let the attorney know what type of services you will most likely need and how they can best serve your family.

The most common services you might want to consider and discuss with your potential special needs attorney are setting up trusts and wills, future planning, and education rights and programs. Knowing what your child needs can help you decide which attorney would be best for your family, and it can also help the attorneys know if they have the appropriate expertise for your situation.

Budget The Costs

As we all know, hiring a special needs attorney can be costly. However, the benefits of hiring one can greatly outweigh the financial costs. There are also various financial options to consider before hiring a special needs attorney.

Although this option may take some research on your part, there are several foundations that offer to pay the legal fees for a special needs attorney. There are also some special needs attorneys that consider taking on pro-bono work for families in need. Most work with clients to set up payment plans that can help ease the financial burden of hiring an attorney.

Do Your Research

Before even meeting with a special needs attorney you want to make sure you do your research on them and the services you expect. Most attorneys will have a website that will give you information about the attorney’s past cases as well as their specialized interests and experiences. Doing your research about special needs attorneys beforehand can be helpful for when you do meet with them, and it can help you consider who is worth meeting with and who is not.

special needs attorney

Meet With Attorneys

Before hiring a special needs attorney you will want to meet with several attorneys to determine who is best for your family. It’s not enough to have the proper expertise. You want a special needs attorney that gets along with your family and is understanding of your situation. Most attorneys do not charge for the first consultation meeting, so you have the opportunity to meet with several without draining your budget

Sign The Paperwork and Follow Up

Once you have met with several special needs attorneys and who you want to work with, you can begin the process of working with them. Do not forget to follow up with your special needs attorney often to ensure that you are using their services to their full potential. Maintaining a relationship with your special needs attorney can help them get to know your family’s needs more closely.

Overall, hiring a special needs attorney is a process in itself, and it takes care and time, as a special needs attorney can often be a big investment in your special needs child’s life.

How A Special Needs Lawyer Can Help Your Child


While all parents worry about their kids, parents of children with special needs have very particular concerns that might benefit from hiring a special needs lawyer. A special needs lawyer can help your family in multiple ways, so here are three main reasons to hire a special needs lawyer for your child:

Financial Planning With a Special Needs Lawyer

Providing the best for your special needs child often involves financial planning and ensuring they will be able to afford everything they might need currently and into the future. A special needs lawyer can help with ensuring that your child is being provided with all the best financial opportunities and options. Special needs lawyers often work closely with financial advisors that specialize in special needs cases and can often refer you to these experts.

There are many different financial benefits that might be available for your special needs child, but finding those resources and applying for those benefits can be overwhelming. Although there are government benefits for your child, you want to make sure they have supplemental assets for emergency situations and for added financial security in the future.

A key financial benefit to have for your child’s future is a trust. A special needs lawyer can help your family go through the process, making it stress free and well-organized.


Setting Up A Trust

There are many different types of trusts that can be used to make sure funding for your special needs child’s life is secure. A special needs trust can not only organize and manage resources for your child, it also helps maintain your child’s eligibility for public assistance benefits.

There are some rules and regulations that come with setting up this specialized type of trust, so hiring a special needs lawyer can make sure that you are following the regulations of the trust agreement. A special needs lawyer can help you decide whether it would be best to have the trust built within your will or in an inter vivos trust agreement. A special needs trust must also have a trustee to help manage the trust assets and a special needs lawyer can help you make this critical decision.

Special Education Advocate

Proper education for their children is a concern for all parents, but parents of special needs children need to make sure they are providing their child with the resources that can help them in school. When it comes to education, a special needs lawyer can be helpful to act as an advocate for your special needs child. They can assist you with the individualized education program (IEP) process and act as a negotiator or representative for you and your child if any issues at school should arise.

Working with a special needs lawyer for the various needs of your special needs child can help you establish financial and educational benefits that can benefit your family in the long run. A special needs lawyer can help keep all the financial benefits you have set up for your child organized and updated. They can also help make sure that your child is being fully represented at their school and receiving the best educational opportunities.

Movies and TV Shows About Special Needs Worth Watching


In a 2013 report, characters with a disability only accounted for 1 percent of the television population, when in reality, people with disabilities make up 19 percent of the US population, or around 56 million people.  While the representation is still a long way from being representative of the true population, there are still quality television programs and films that depict special needs honestly.


Whats it About?: The story of a family as they deal with the challenges of raising a son with cerebral palsy.

Why Its Worth Watching: While Speechless treats cerebral palsy with an informed voice, it doesnt do so with a melodramatic tone.  In fact, Speechless is actually a comedy.  Created by Scott Silveri, Speechless pulls from his childhood experiences of watching his parents care for his brother, who has cerebral palsy.

In an industry in which people with special needs are underrepresented, Speechless is one of the few television shows out there that attempts to give them a voice, pun-intended. Here are some of the newest HD movies that are also worth watching.


Whats it About?: NBC drama about the ups and downs of three generations of the Braverman family.

Why Its Worth Watching: A stalwart in NBCs programming schedule for six seasons, Parenthood never shied away from tackling tough issues that most families could relate to.  Throughout the run, they tackled everything from teenage pregnancy to breast cancer to PTSD, but one of the longest-running storylines in the show was young Max growing up and coming to terms with being diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.

Showrunner Jason Katim based Maxs storyline, and the storyline of his parents Kristina and Adam, on his own experiences of being a parent of a child diagnosed with Aspergers.  Katims autobiographical perspective and young actor Max Burkholders commitment to the role makes Parenthood a raw and honest look at an often-misunderstood special need.

Autism: The Musical

Whats it About?: A documentary chronicling six months in the lives of five children on the autism spectrum, as they write, rehearse, and perform and original stage musical.

Why Its Worth Watching: A lot of documentaries focused on autism tend to focus on the experiences of the parents and what it is like raising a child with autism.  While the parents are involved in this film (including rock and roll guitarist Stephen Stills), the focus of this documentary is primarily the children.  Moving and inspiring, this film can make you tear at the struggles of both the children and the parents, but can also fill your heart with happiness as you see the children overcome some of the challenges they are faced with.

Whats Eating Gilbert Grape?

Whats it About?: After his father dies, Gilbert Grape is forced to take care of his morbidly obese mother and his special needs brother, while trying to make a life of his own.  

Why Its Worth Watching: Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Arnie, Gilbert’s autistic brother.  In the film, Arnie is an independent person: a member of the community and a fixture in his own home.  In comparison to Rain Man, a film made around the same time, Arnie is not institutionalized and is welcomed and loved in his own community.  


Hollywood still has a long way to go to fully represent the special needs population.  Film and television, however, have come a long way in depicting those with special needs like autism with accuracy and honesty.


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.