As our son edges closer to the age of 18, and we begin to look down at the steep cliff of adulthood that awaits us after high school, it gets pretty scary. Peering down into a canyon of peaks and crevices from high above, it is very hard to picture the exact path we will travel.
The last two big events I attended gave me some guidance. The first conference, called ADVANCE LA, sponsored by The Help Group, was held at the AJU and was designed for professionals and parents of teens with special needs who have some academic skills, but who need help with the more “soft skills” such organization/time management, money management, and social interactions.
In the “Building Blocks for the Future” workshop presented by Amy-Jane Griffiths, PhD, a very systematic six-part approach to planning ahead was shared, beginning with the assessment of Strengths, Skills and Supports, and then moving onto on a dream or hope. My favorite take away was during the “Try It” stage (#5) when Dr. Griffiths showed an animated sketch of a dancing chicken, and said, “If you wanted to teach that chicken to dance, would you yell at it?” Of course not. You would throw a tasty morsel of corn at the first flick of its wings, and then keep building up from there.
The second peek over a closer edge for us personally took place in the Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday afternoon, I went along with the Bet Tzedek Family Matters program to witness a group of 15 families from a Special Education High School having their day in court to obtain Limited DD Conservatorships for their significantly disabled teens, all close to 18 years old.
These low-income families had all received pro bono assistance from attorneys at O’Melveny and Myers, one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the United States and beyond. One by one each family was called up to the bench with their pro bono attorney and with a separate attorney, called a PVP (“Probate Volunteer Panel”) to represent the rights of the client, which in this case was the young adult with developmental disabilities. All the PVPs also waived their fees today.
Judge Levanas welcomed everyone and said that “today is a celebration” of their transition into adulthood and that conservatorship represented a milestone for these young men and women as they moved into adulthood, as their parents (or other relatives) reaffirmed their commitment to their adult children to keep them safe and help the conservatee develop maximum self-reliance and independence.
Without these limited conservatorships, it can be very difficult for parents to participate in medical decisions (due to privacy laws), see confidential papers or have any control over signing contracts. Unfortunately, there are plenty of financial predators out there ready to “friend” an adult with developmental disabilities in return for them purchasing something they often don’t need, such as a rug cleaning machine for a house filled will hardwood floors.
Seeing these diverse families of many colors and configurations come forward before the judge and publicly re-committing to doing right by their young adult with developmental disabilities was inspiring, and helped me see the trailhead of our next journey.