Is it an appropriate decision for a parent to lock an ASD child in his or her room for safety reasons? Parents may disagree as to what is in their child’s best interest. This becomes even more complex when dealing with an ASD child during custody litigation. A parent’s decision-making ability is put under the microscope by attorneys, judges and forensic evaluators. All too often the very people making decisions regarding parenting ability may have no experience dealing with autism and lack any understanding as to the particular issues of a family with a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The growing autism population has forced attorneys and courts to deal with what is appropriate parental decision-making for a child who has an ASD. Attorneys appointed to represent the child must make themselves intimately familiar with safety issues, therapies, medical terminology, educational issues, IEPs, alternative treatments and reading programs, to name a few. Attorneys and advocates need to understand not only the life of the ASD child, who may not be able to communicate, but also the impact upon siblings who are not autistic.
In addition to child custody issues, ASD has become a hot-button issue in child protective services investigations. Vaccination choice and so-called alternative biomedical treatments are playing an increasingly large role in neglect or abuse investigations involving children on the autism spectrum. EBCALA is contacted regularly by families with legitimate medical and religious exemptions from vaccination or families who treat their children with biomedical therapies or other alternative treatments. Child Protective Services has contacted them based on reports from school principals, doctors or others who either do not understand a family’s legal rights or decisions about medical care for their children, who simply disagree with parents and file reports with CPS, or who feel pressured by administrators above them to report such cases. These cases present a difficult balance between the concern of the state in investigating claims of abuse and neglect and the rights of parents to make legitimate treatment decisions for their children. Parents and attorneys need to understand parents’ rights with respect to their children’s medical care.