April is National Autism Awareness Month. In honor of the month, our PA family lawyers have decided to provide our readers with information about the impact a child with autism can have on a Pennsylvania family law case. We believe that having a general understanding of Autism and how it may affect our clients and their children is important knowledge in any family law practice. Statistics now suggest that 1 in 110 children have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Therefore, from a family law perspective, custody disputes where one or all of the children are autistic may present unique issues, and most family law practitioners will see these cases during their career.
First things first, we want to provide some information about autism spectrum disorder. The most important question we want to address is regarding the symptoms of autism. It is important to note that one child with an ASD may be entirely different from another child diagnosed with an ASD. However, general characteristics of autism include:
- Deficits in developing and maintaining relationships with others that are appropriate based on the child's developmental level
- Deficits in social-emotional behaviors
- Repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities that can be restricting
- In severe cases, children can be non-responsive to social interaction, have a complete loss of the ability to speak and understand others when speaking, and engaging in many repetitive actions.
That being said, now we are going to discuss how having an child with autism may impact a family law case. First, raising a child with autism typically means increased child rearing expenses. For example, autistic children tend to have greater medical and healthcare needs, as well as additional costs related to specialized school tuition. Also, children with an ongoing ASD may need financial support throughout adulthood as well, depending on the severity of their disorder. For some autistic adults, a conservatorship must be established when the child becomes a legal adult.
Attorneys must consider these special financial, educational, and medical needs for children with autism when calculating child support in a Pennsylvania family law case. Additionally, a family law attorney must be aware of all of these special needs when formulating a custody arrangement.
If you have a child with autism and are facing any sort of Pennsylvania family law case, contact our team at Lisa Marie Vari & Associates. Additionally, to learn more about Autism, go to Autism Speaks' website.