Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Growing Cases & Complexities of Autism in Ohio’s Courts

Despite decades of looking over legal documents, Licking County Magistrate Bill Rickrich is always learning something new.

Having served the Licking County Domestic Relations Court for the past 28 years, there’s one thread in cases that can be particularly complex – those dealing with autism spectrum disorder.

“This can become complicated very fast and it’s not always something you can nail down at the first time you can see it in court, either,” said Rickrich.

In his court, approximately 4 percent of custodial cases involve a child with that condition. By comparison, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1.7 percent of children born are affected by the disorder.

“It’s not unheard to see marriages break up over some of the demands and issues and trials associated with that,” Rickrich said.

The magistrate can empathize with those who care for a loved one under such circumstances. He grew up with a sibling with severe developmental and physical disabilities.

“As I got older, maybe 4 or 5 years old, I thought that everybody had a child at home that was like my sister, and as I got older, I was taken aback that that wasn’t the case,” Rickrich said.

With April designated as Autism Awareness Month, he and other court officials across the state are working to educate the public about the services courts provide.

Trumbull County Probate Court Judge James Fredericka is also seeing an increase in cases involving children with autism. At 5 percent of his guardianship cases and rising, he wants parents and loved ones to know their available options when a child becomes an adult and is incapable of independence.

“In the event there is a severe autism component, we want to establish a trust relationship, so that good decisions that are in the best interests of the person with autism can be made on their behalf,” said Judge Fredericka.

Guardianships come about when a person can’t take care of themselves or their estate. After successfully petitioning a probate court to be the responsible party, a parent or loved one can determine the best course for a person’s health, safety, support, care, and place of residence. Without guardianships, it becomes significantly more difficult for a caretaker to advocate for services and benefits, receive medical information, and assist with decisions regarding care and medical needs.

“We want to make sure that people who have autism can be taken care of and assisted in their daily lives, and that’s the message that we want get out there is that we’re here to help,” Judge Fredericka said.