shared courtesy of the Press Herald
DAMARISCOTTA, Maine – Until last year, Joshua Strong wasn’t in charge of his own life.
Like many other adults with autism, Strong was deemed incapacitated by a judge early in adulthood. Most of his decisions were turned over to a legal guardian – in his case, his father.
If Strong wanted to make a big purchase, he needed permission. If he wanted to alter his medication regimen, he needed his father’s OK. If he wanted to begin a romantic relationship, his dad might have to make a ruling on that, too.
That all changed on June 6, 2018, when Strong became the first person in Maine to dissolve a guardianship in favor of something called supported decision-making. It allows him to create a team of people who serve as sounding boards, but all decisions – about financial matters, about health care, about relationships – are legally his to make.
Strong’s case helped pave the way for a change in the way the courts will treat people with intellectual disabilities. A sweeping overhaul of Maine’s probate code that was approved by the Legislature this year and takes effect Sept. 1 adds supported decision-making as an alternative to consider in lieu of guardianship.
In the 15 months since Strong became his own guardian, he said his day-to-day life looks the same. He lives in the same apartment, holds the same jobs, and still receives support services through a local agency, Mobius Inc.
But the 42-year-old has a level of independence he’s never had, one that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.
“It doesn’t feel any different,” he said while pacing between the living room and kitchen of his tidy, one-bedroom apartment in Damariscotta. “I still need help with things, but I guess I’m not asking for permission as much.”