Any person over the age of 18 is legally an adult, and is presumed to be able to manage his or her own finances, choose where to live, consent to medical treatment, vote, marry, and exercise his or her own legal rights as an adult. This
presumption does not change because a person has a disability.
When a person is unable to do some or all of these, some form of supported decision making is needed. It is important that families learn about the full range of options and start having the conversation about decision making with their family members early. While guardianship is the most widely used legal tool, there is a growing use of less restrictive options to support a young adult’s ability to have control over his/her own life, allowing them to determine their own future as an adult.
Decision-Making — A Skill that Requires Practice and Experience
Decision-making is a learned skill. If we give young children the opportunity to choose what they wear, eat or want to
do for fun, we encourage their self-confidence and their ability to make decisions that direct their own life. All youth and adults make mistakes in decision making at times and these mistakes usually help their ability to make better decisions in the future. If youth (including those with special needs) are not given the opportunity to choose and make mistakes they are less likely to develop these skills and may not believe they are capable of decision making as adults.
As a family considers a young adult’s ability to make their own decisions they may want to
think about the following:
What do you worry about as you consider your child’s future – is guardianship necessary or would a less restrictive option do?
- Does your child have skills and strengths in some areas of decision making, but not in others (e.g., could they decide what classes they want to take but not be able to make financial decisions)?
- Would support from friends, family, technology or professionals be enough to assist the young person with their decisions?
- How important is the decision they need to make and what are the consequences of a wrong decision?
Legal Tools to Support Decision Making
There are a variety of legal options for families. These include signing Release of Information forms, Power of Attorney for Health Care, Power of Attorney for Finance, Power of Attorney for Education, and full or partial/limited Guardianship.
Visit the PATH Transition to Adulthood page for more information, or contact a PATH staff member today.
Reprinted from Family Voices of Wisconsin