FIU College of Law

Legal-needs assessment day to launch for adults with developmental disabilities, October 29th

FIU Embrace has teamed with FIU’s College of Law to provide legal advise to families caring for and individuals with autism and other development disabilities

Article contributed by: Jane Schreier Jones

 Recently, a mother and primary caregiver learned the hard way that once a person with developmental disabilities becomes an adult, helping them get the services they need becomes even tougher for parents.

Before she turned 21 years old, her daughter, affected by autism, was covered by the state’s Medicaid plan. But the important services she received — such as 24 hours per week of Behavioral Therapy — were abruptly cut off when the young woman turned 21. Unfortunately, because of the transition to the adult state plan, her daughter was no longer approved for one of the few evidenced-based practices at the proven level of care: behavior therapy at least 20 hours per week.

“Continued learning of the right behaviors is more important than ever for this bright young woman who would like to enter the work force. But the special help she needed had ended,” says Nicole Attong, Director of Operations for FIU Embrace. “This mom could have used legal help to learn what her daughter’s rights are and how to fight the bureaucracy that’s standing in the way. That’s why we’re so pleased with the new partnership we have established.”

FIU Embrace, a university-wide initiative that promotes health, wellness, and overall functioning for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), intellectual disabilities (ID), and other neurodevelopmental disorders (OND), has formed a partnership with FIU College of Law, South Florida’s only public law school. Together, FIU Embrace and Law will launch Family Legal-Needs Assessment Day on October 29th, 2016. 

“FIU College of Law will be providing legal support services for adults with autism and other development disabilities,” says Attong. “This support will be extremely valuable to many families who are faced with major hurdles in trying to help the developmentally disabled adult in their family.”

More than 12,000 individuals in Florida are waiting for services.

Many legal situations arise as a child with developmental disabilities reaches adulthood, Attong points out. For instance, how can a parent set up a guardianship to provide for their adult child? How does a parent navigate healthcare and government systems that normally shut out the parent’s involvement when their child turns 21?

The mother in this example, whose daughter’s therapy was discontinued due to age, was able to — after much frustration — get her daughter approved for Florida Wavier services through the iBudget. However, today more than twelve thousand individuals in Florida are waiting for services.

“We want to help people in our community solve their problems with less hassle and more support,” says Attong. “Getting help from a Legal Aid has been a challenge for parents and waiting for assistance has proven to be a barrier. Our partnership with FIU College of Law allows us to offer legal services to disabled adults and their families who are on our campuses and throughout Miami-Dade County.”

Developmental disabilities can impact a person’s physical, language, learning and/or behavior which has lifelong effects. Given the spectrum of the disorder, some individuals are capable of enrolling in degree-seeking course work or inclusive post-secondary education programs at FIU, in order to earn a degree/certificate and be productive members of society. “Our mission at FIU Embrace is to pave the way for all individuals affected by developmental disabilities and helping the greater community to learn the tremendous value of these individuals and to embrace inclusion,” she says.

Attong has high praise for the FIU College of Law’s faculty, students and administration. This past July, the law school had the highest number of students passing the bar exam in the state and exceeded the statewide average bar passage rate of 68.2 percent, by almost 20 percentage points. This follows the state-leading 84.6 percent passage rate on the February 2016 exam, and 89 percent pass rate on the July 2015 bar exam. All three rates have been the highest in Florida. “Dean Alexander Acosta and Senior Associate Dean Michelle Mason of FIU College of Law have demonstrated a pioneering spirit in making legal services available to individuals with developmental disabilities,” says Attong.

“FIU Embrace strives to create programs and functions to help individuals with disabilities feel integrated at the University in a campus-like setting,” she continues. “FIU College of Law has just made a giant step in helping that happen. We are very grateful.”

FIU Embrace also partners with the Dan Marino Foundation, Autism Speaks and IDENTIFOR.

Family Legal-Needs Assessment Day, October 29

Individuals and families affected by autism, intellectual disabilities, and other neurodevelopmental disabilities such as down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and more can receive a free legal assessment of their needs at a one-day event, Family Legal-Needs Assessment Day.

FIU Embrace is teaming up with FIU College of Law to present the Family Legal-Needs Assessment Day on FIU’s Modesto Maidique campus on Saturday, October 29, 2016, from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm. The event will be held in Room 1010 of Rafael Diaz-Balart Hall in FIU College of Law. The event is free and open to walk-ins, but advanced registration is recommended by October 27th. Register at or by calling (305) 348-5377.


The FIU Embrace initiative at Florida International University was developed to promote health, wellness, and overall functioning for adults with developmental disabilities. FIU Embrace provides supports in three important areas: services, education and dissemination, and research and design.

 The initiative seeks to help developmentally disabled adults lead healthy lives and maximize their individual potential across their lifespan.

Children with developmental disabilities (DD) and autism (ASD) grow up to become adults with DD and ASD, with estimates that over the next decade some 500,000 such individuals will come of age in the United States. Since stress and depression among caregivers is well recognized, in order to address the scope of challenges facing young adults and their families, FIU Embrace is utilizing a multi-faceted approach.  

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