Limited Conservatorship and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Families in Transition

by Kristen Southworth


Slightly more than 1% of California public school children are receiving special education services for autism. As these children mature to adulthood, they and their families will have to decide what types of support and, in some cases, supervision is necessary for the young developmentally disabled adult to live as independently as possible.

In layman’s terms, the limited conservatorship was designed so that developmentally disabled adults could retain maximum limited conservatorshipindependence and families could continue to help their developmentally disabled adult child navigate a complex society. A “developmental disability” is a disability that originates before the individual reaches 18 years of age, is expected to continue, and constitutes a “substantial handicap” for the individual. Autism is included in the definition of “substantial handicap”.

When families come to discuss their options, we consider other less restrictive and cumbersome alternatives to the limited conservatorship. These include a special or limited power of attorney, durable power of attorney for health care or estate management and a trust. If, after considering the alternatives, the parents determine that a limited conservatorship is the best option to support their child, they must decide what powers to request in their petition. These run the gamut from fixing their child’s residence to consenting or withholding consent for their adult child to marry. The limited conservatorship process includes a background check of the parent (petitioner), court appearances, and paperwork. If the parents’ petition is granted and they become their child’s limited conservators, they assume the responsibility of securing the educational, vocational and medical services their adult child requires to live as independently as possible.

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