Many of our clients have legal responsibility for the financial circumstances of adults with intellectual disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, dementia or other medical conditions causing developmental disabilities or mental incapacity. These clients may wear the hats of parents, conservators, or representative payees for recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Unique money management issues
Many people with autism or similar disabilities are eligible for and receive public benefits from government programs such as SSI or Medicaid – a federal-state health insurance program called Health First Colorado in our state – that have asset and income limits. For example, the limits for countable assets (including cash and bank accounts) for SSI are currently $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a married couple.
It can be hard to keep a beneficiary’s money under these very low levels, but doing so is part of the fiduciary responsibility of anyone legally responsible for such a vulnerable person, because these programs are often the lifelines to basic needs like health insurance and residential services. It can be a constant challenge to find new and creative ways to spend the person’s money that will legitimately benefit them.
But it also provides an opportunity.
Focus on sensory needs
One option for such spending is highlighted in a new article from the Houston Chronicle reprinted in Disability Scoop. It is well known that symptoms of autism and some other disabilities can include extreme sensitivity to input from the environment as well as sensory deficits that can be met with the right input.
For example, an individual with autism may avoid bright light or loud noise because they experience such stimuli as painful or irritating. Another person may have a developmental disability that makes them anxious, but classical music or a weighted blanket may calm them.
Other symptoms that careful planning can address are aversion to clutter, obsessional thinking or the need for structure, organization and routine.
Thoughtful interior design of the home of such a person can be therapeutic and help them more easily navigate their lives with fewer – or more tolerable – symptoms, according to the article. The piece describes individuals for whom these careful decisions were made. Ideas may include choices concerning:
- Chairs or beds with specific designs
- Indoor paths
- Aromatherapy using essential oils
- Soft fabric furniture coverings and other uses of specific textures
- Calming colors on walls and elsewhere
- Lighting design and replacement of fluorescent sources
- Organizational systems to support the need for structure and order and to minimize clutter
- Careful choice of artwork and display of items of personal accomplishment to support self-esteem
Interior design planning may also consider the need for durability if the person who lives there is hard on objects because of disability-related behavior.
We hope these ideas start the creative juices flowing for our clients making these important financial decisions for their loved ones or in their professional capacities.