Family Law

Does the Law Protect People with Autism?

One out of every 88 Americans has been diagnosed with autism, and its prevalence has been rising sharply over the past decade. Autism is four times more common in boys than girls.

There is no cure, but early diagnosis and treatment can vastly improve the lives of those with autism. Children with autism need intensive therapy and special educational services. Adults with autism face an additional set of challenges. The law protects people with autism at all ages.

What Is Autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is characterized by impaired social development, poor communication skills, and repetitive or restrictive behaviors.

The autism spectrum includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive development disorder. People with autism can have high, normal or low intelligence. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of autism.

Does Health Insurance Cover Autism?

Most of the legislation to provide insurance coverage for the diagnosis, testing and treatment of autism has been enacted in the last four years. Currently, 33 states require insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders for children and young adults up to age 26. Denial of coverage can be appealed.

Advocates for people with autism hoped that the federal Affordable Care Act would create a national standard for coverage, but that did not happen. States that enacted comprehensive autism mandates prior to 2011 should be able to continue autism coverage under the ACA. Those in states with no laws or where laws were enacted after 2011 (Michigan, Alaska and Delaware) may not.

If they have limited means, children and adults with autism qualify for Medicaid.

Does My Child Qualify for Special Ed?

Yes. The Individuals with Disabilities Education act is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. A school district that does not offer the right programs will sometimes pay to enroll a child with disabilities in a private school that better meets the child’s needs.

What about Financial Security?

Children with disabilities, including autism, qualify for Social Security income. After age 18, they also qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance/Disabled Adult Child Benefits. Leaving money to a disabled person can have the unintended effect of disqualifying them from these and other benefits.

Parents of a person with autism will want to use a will and/or trusts to name a guardian and specify care. People with autism often need guardians to manage their financial and personal affairs. A supplemental needs trust or special needs trust can hold assets to help pay for a disabled person’s care and expenses without disqualifying them from certain means-tested government benefits.

What about Adults with Autism?

Some adults with severe autism are unable to work and rely on SSDI and Medicaid. Some can work in protected settings. Vocational and adult services programs are available. Others can work regular jobs and support themselves. Those in the mainstream workplace can rely on the Americans with Disabilities Act in order to receive accommodations that allow them to succeed at their jobs.

Autism and the Courts

Special care must be taken when a family with an autistic child or dependent is involved with the courts. Family courts usually rule based on “the best interests of the child,” but this can be more difficult to determine when a child or dependent adult is autistic.

Because of poor communication and social skills, adults with autism can be more likely to run afoul of the law. Sometimes, they commit crimes. Other times, they are misunderstood. For example, police officers might think that an autistic person, who has poor speech skills is acting guilty or impaired.

Call a Family or Disabilities Lawyer

The law surrounding autism and other disabilities can be complicated. Plus, the facts in each case and the laws in each state are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the subject. It is not legal advice. For more detailed, specific information about your situation, please contact a lawyer who focuses on family law or disabilities law.

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