Conner’s Law for Special Needs Child Support
By Sharon Cummings
So many of you as family members and/or loved ones of children with autism or special needs are advocating on a daily basis for your child. Attending an IEP meeting and speaking for your child is advocating. Questioning what a doctor, counselor, teacher or any professional who is working with your child to determine if this is what is best for your child is advocating. To listen to their options and their advice and ultimately do what you think is best for your child is advocating. Every time we advocate, every time we speak about our children, every time we take our children out to the park, the mall, the movies, dinner or anywhere we are signifying acceptance—accepting our children for who they are.
During my personal divorce when my son was 20, I had asked for child support. It seems the way the current law is written that a child can only receive child support (for disabled and special needs) after the age of 18 if the support has been in effect prior to the age of 18. Meaning that in my case as Conner was 20 when we were getting a divorce so his child support is not continued we were married and thus no reason for the child support. It seems the word “continued” is the problem. A Judge’s ruling was handed down based on how the current law reads or can be interpreted. I decided then and there that the law needed changing. I want to help create a new, fair law to help ensure continuance of child support for all disable young adults.
STAND BY ME is my promise to my son and to all of the young adults throughout the U.S. that are now affected from precedents by this ruling. One-third of our fifty states have no laws on the books to continue parental support for severely disabled and special-needs adults over 18. In those states that do, many have loopholes such as what we experienced in the state of Virginia.
By increasing the number of determined advocates in every state, we hope this effort will eventually coalesce and become a national initiative similar to what happened with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). After all, it should be more likely to advance similar legislation like “Conner’s Law” using the ADA’s moral and ethical structures. Our base, as an advocate broadens when as many law-makers and affected people as possible are represented. Advocates for “Conner’s Law” presently represent three categories—citizens and law-makers, those who themselves are disabled, and those with disabled children and relatives—all committed to affecting this change.
I am a mom of a 21 year old adult with autism. For all of Conner’s life I have worked out of the home and around his schedule the best I could. I did not attend many outside functions as Conner got older it was increasingly difficult to find a sitter or someone to stay in the house with him. Conner cannot be by himself as he has a tendency to revert into himself and tune out his surroundings. When he does this he is totally oblivious to anything that can happen around him. When I see that he has done this I hold his hands and speak to him and I am able to get him a short while to communicate with me and become aware of his environment once again.
Conner and I have created a relationship that frankly has blown me away. We take road trips and road walks and we talk or we play made up games with songs and movies (two of Conner’s favorite things). We can eat at any restaurant and attend any event. Conner does always carry some sort of electronic device with him which is now mainly his iPhone so if the noise and surroundings get unbearable for him he simply turns on his phone and listens to his Disney music or looks at his pictures. We have gone through how he could not tolerate noise at all, how crowds were overbearing, and how he did not speak until he was 5. Conner has his own time table on so many things as our children do. Yet here we are in a place where, yes it is different, but astonishing and amazing. Conner has won the local Special Olympics twice for ice skating. Never until recently had he expressed an interest in a sport. He can play a song from ear on the piano that will blow your socks off. He has now learned how to read music and his teacher says Conner is “gifted.” At one point when Conner was very young, I was doubting I would ever hear words like those. Conner continues at 21 to learn every day.
He accomplished tying his shoes at age 21. He speaks more and he has a new passion when he talks about Conner’s Law. He does not understand it in total but what he does understand is that he wants to make a difference in people’s lives. And he is doing it! Conner writes on our Facebook page another task I was told he would never do. His passion is anything Disney and he is a Disney expert. He speaks at times in a Disney character when he is overwhelmed. I have learned to love those characters as sometimes it may be Mickey Mouse that tells me how Conner is truly feeling. Conner is the only known photographer in the Washington Metropolitan area with autism. He actually has 9 pictures published in a book titled “Presidents’ Gardens.” He states “I am a published photographer. How magical is that?” He is innocent and smart and determined and happy.
Although the world may see autism through darkened lens, (tweaked from Helen Keller) my son does not and now neither do I.