Joshua Strong doesn’t see himself as a role model, but that’s exactly what he is.

The 42-year-old Damariscotta resident, once deemed “incapacitated” by a court on account of his autism, now lives on his own and, with the help of a team of advisers, makes all his own decisions. His progress through the years has empowered himself and given comfort to his parents, who once acted as his long-term caregivers and now don’t have to worry what will happen when they are no longer around.

Strong’s parents were told when he was younger that his intellectual disabilities would require institutionalization, Portland Press Herald staff writer Eric Russell recently reported. In fact, when he first started working about a decade ago with Mobius, a social service agency, Strong needed around-the-clock care.

With medication, therapy and other supports, Strong’s condition gradually improved. Still, he lived for years with others making decisions for him, first in early adulthood while living with his mother, then with his father as his court-appointed guardian, with full control over his finances, medical treatment and relationships. The guardianship agreement called him an “incapacitated person.”

With help and support from his family and a variety of others, Strong continued to improve in his ability to manage his own life, eventually taking control over his finances. By 2014, though still under the guardianship of his father, Strong was living quite independently. By early 2018, Strong had come so far that his father filed to terminate the guardianship.

On June 6, 2018, Strong’s guardianship was dissolved by the probate court in favor of what is known as supported decision-making. He now has complete control over his life, albeit with the help of a team.

Under supported decision-making, the people on that team, who can be family, caseworkers, employers, among others, act as a sounding board for the individual. Each member of the team is given a defined role that they play in the life of the individual, who ultimately makes final decisions.

In Strong’s case, not much changed in his day-to-day life following the dissolution of the guardianship. More than anything else, the court decision was a recognition of how he was already living his life by that time, as he had his own apartment, was working two jobs and was managing his finances and medications on the advice of his parents and social workers.

Strong’s progress toward independence over the years should be an inspiration to others who are told they’ll never make it on their own. It is an advertisement for the kinds of supports and services he has received over the years.

And it’s a great argument for the expansion of supported decision-making. As a result of a new law passed by the Legislature this year, Maine probate courts starting Sept. 1 have supported decision-making as an alternative in cases like Strong’s.

Strong earned the status through a pilot program in which Mobius was participating; he was the first person in the state to receive it. He shouldn’t be the last.

 

 


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