Thank You to Dads!

Thank You to Dads!

                We at the Filis Law Firm want to thank all of the fathers who contribute daily to the betterment of our children’s lives. Our families who have children with special needs are members of a unique group that I am proud to be a member of. This discussion is directed to you.

I was recently confronted with a statement from a client that the mothers in our unique group do all the work associated with caring for our kids with special needs. I found that statement quite exaggerated based on my own observations of many families with a child or children who have a disability, but I felt obligated to explore this generalized statement and tease out some truths.  In our society, traditionally, mothers are designated from day one as the instant child care expert. In homes with a child who is disabled, in my experience, out of the two-parent families, it is typically the mother who go to all the doctor visits and read hundreds of books/articles/blogs on their child’s condition and possible treatments, but these circumstances follow what is still the standard practice in most American homes.

Recent studies indicate that even if the mother is employed outside the house, she is still likely to take most of the household chores and child care.  An article from CNBC in April 2015[1] revealed the results from a survey by the Working Mother Research Institute where 79% of working mothers are primarily responsible for laundry, cooking, and child care. But, believe me, we want our kids’ dads in our unique community to join in the child care and be on an equal footing.  If parents are not equal participants in child care, then look at the circumstances in your household and see if there is a gatekeeper[2] who is (possibly unknowingly) keeping others at bay away from the child.

The common example of a gatekeeper parent is typically the mother in the relationship.  Scenarios display that the mother is reluctant to hand over child care responsibilities or becomes critical the father’s efforts. Studies show that the father will learn to participate in child care less, and if the father does participate, he views it as baby-sitting and doing the mother a favor. The studies I read are based in settings of households of typical families, whose households do not include a disabled or medically fragile child. In our unique group, we have  children who can truly suffer harm from certain environmental factors/allergens, or can suffer health problems for failure to take medication timely. These health risks are circumstances that are additional to other typical child-rearing issues, all of which can elevate a caregiver’s protective instincts to become reactionary and often blunt. It has been my observation that all of the caregiver parent’s patience is spent on the child.  Multiple interactions with the gatekeeper/caregiver parent can be unbearable for an “outsider” and result in pushing away some people, even family members, from the child. Gatekeeper parents can change the circumstances, welcome the other parent to join in and take over certain areas of the child’s life. Gatekeepers will need to completely remove themselves, offer no criticism, and allow the other parent or family member to participate in events with the child, even if the efforts made are far from perfection.

Give others a chance to join in and add value to your child’s daily life.

[1] CNBC, Working moms still take on bulk of household chores, Kelley Holland, April 28, 2015.

[2] Mothers’ Gatekeeping of Father Involvement in Married- and Cohabitating-Couple Families, Catherine Kenney and Ryan Bogle, paa2009.princetonedu/papers/91717.

COPAA alert about Medicaid and Students with Disabilities

As a parent with a child with autism and ADHD, I find myself joining many groups for parents of children with special needs. One such group is COPAA – Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. From time to time, I receive notifications and articles from COPAA discussing pending legislation that could potentially impact my family. Below I am sharing such a notification/alert.


Protecting the Legal and Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities and their Families

(Please feel free to share this alert)


Dear Leona:

The U.S. Senate is currently negotiating a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. There is support in the Senate to follow the House and reduce federal Medicaid spending by 25 percent by distributing Medicaid funds through a block-grant or a per-capita cap, which would shift costs to states and cut Medicaid by $4 billion each year! COPAA has advocated against these cuts and we need you to act with us.
Medicaid and Students with Disabilities

Medicaid permits payment to schools for certain medically necessary services provided to children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) through an individualized education plan (IEP) or individualized family service plan (IFSP). Schools are eligible to be reimbursed for direct medical services to Medicaid eligible students with an IEP or IFSP. In addition, districts can be reimbursed by Medicaid for providing Early Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment Benefits (EPSDT), which provides Medicaid eligible children under age 21 with health screening, diagnosis and treatment services such as vision, hearing and more. Many schools and districts rely on Medicaid to provide services and to pay for certain personnel (e.g. school nurse, aides); to purchase and update specialized equipment; and to purchase and/or provide assistive technology and items needed for each child to access the school curriculum alongside their peers


Visit our Medicaid in Schools page to learn more.


Please reach out to your Senators today! 

Have You Heard of IMFAR?

2017 International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR)

I do not consider myself new to the Autism community, however, I did not know about the autism research meeting of hundreds of clinicians and researchers from fifty countries, who met this month in San Francisco for the 16th annual meeting.  Various articles from the discussions by the panels at the conference can be found at here that include Diagnostic tests miss autism features in girls, and Alternative screen finds high autism prevalence in U.S. state, where South Carolina’s study (unpublished findings) indicates 1 in 28 children are on the spectrum. This screening used in South Carolina was modeled after South Korea’s screening process that yielded an autism rate of 2.65 percent, approximately double that of the United States.

Another article I found of interest is Doctors twice as likely to miss girls as boys on autism screen by Hannah Furfaro, May 12, 2017.  For more info, go to

Veterans’ Disability Case Howell v. Howell

U.S. Supreme Court Veterans’ Disability Case
Howell v. Howell

The Court’s Opinion published today stems from an Arizona spousal maintenance case involving a disabled Air Force veteran.  In the divorce, the Howells’s Decree awarded fifty percent of Mr. Howell’s future retirement pay to Mrs. Howell as community property. Subsequently, Mr. Howell waived a portion of his military retirement pay to receive disability benefits.  The waiver reduced Mrs. Howell’s support by $125.00 per month.
Based on a Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, 10 U.S.C. Section 1408, Congress allows states to treat veterans’ “disposable retired pay” as community property, however, excludes pay that is a result of a waiver. In contrast, the Arizona courts found the divorce decree gave Mrs. Howell a vested interest in the retirement pay and ordered that the designated share be paid, without regard for the disability, arguing that due to the waiver after the division of retirement pay, federal law did not preempt the family court’s reimbursement order. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case.

Mr. Howell will not have to indemnify his former wife for the amount of support she lost due to his waiver of a portion of his retirement pay that enables him to receive disability benefits.

For the entire text of the Opinion, click here.

U.S. House Bill for Students with Visual and Hearing Challenges

Last month the 115th Congress was introduced to H. R 1120 called Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act by  Pennsylvania Representative Matthew Cartwright.

Representative Cartwright previously introduced a similar bill in 2015; however, the 2015 bill was not enacted.

H.R.. 1120 focuses on the need to identify children who are deaf-blind, improve early intervention for affected infants and toddlers, and improve services for such children and their families. The proposed legislation would seek to serve children with a disability who is deaf or hard of hearing, with speech.  This eligibility language could be more inclusive than states’ definitions of disability.

Click here for the text of H.R. 1120.

Houston Events in April 2017

There are so many events in Autism Awareness Month!

Here’s info about some Houston fun events I found online:

April 1 – Sickness Inc Custom Ride for Autism

April 1 and 2 10:30 am to 6:30 PM McDonald’s Houston Children’s Fest

April 3 10 AM to 3 PM Sensory Friendly Say at Children’s Museum of Houston

April 4 PM to 8 PM – 4th Annual Profit Share for Autism – LIUB with Stella & Dot! Free

April 4 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM – The Benjamin J. Geigerman Lecture FREE – Pipelines to Employment for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder”

April 7 6 – 7 PM – Autism Parent Workshop

April 8 8 AM – 5th Annual Bridging the Gap Between Home and School Conference & Resource Fair – FREE

April 8 – Market Days Autism Awareness

April 22 12 PM  – Harris Center’s 15th Annual Picnic in the Park (Autism and IDD Awareness Fair) – George Bush Park

April 22 4:30 PM – Strokes for HOPE! Jennifer Ekeoba’s Autism Awareness Birthday Paint Party $40

April 22 10 AM to 4 PM – Autism Awareness Fest – Embrace the Spectrum – FREE and updated info at

April 29 9 AM – 1 PM From Stress to Strength $10

April 29 1 PM – WHO Wants to Race 5K & 10K for Autism Awareness – Houston

April 30 – Autism Awareness Brunch

Feel free to add any events I missed!


Merely More than De Minimis is NOT the Standard – Endrew F. – U.S. Supreme Court Special Education Case

This week, many families with children with special needs celebrated the United States Supreme Court ruling in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.  The Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”) protects children with disabilities through a mandate that each eligible student receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”), by means of a uniquely tailored individualized education program (“IEP”).  In this case, the Court found that student Endrew F.  failed to receive an appropriate public education.  Special Education and related services are to be provided so that the student may advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals from the IEP, and when possible, be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum.

The Court noted in its opinion that at age two, Endrew F. was diagnosed with autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder generally marked by impaired social and communication skills, “engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.”  With this diagnosis, Endrew F. was eligible to receive special education services. Endrew F.’s parents were dissatisfied with the public school’s inability to provide and IEP different from any of the IEPs for the past few years. With no satisfactory results from the school district, Endrew F.’s parents withdrew him from school and enrolled Endrew in a private school that specializes in educating children with autism, where Endrew excelled.

Endrew F.’s parents sued the school district for failure to provide an appropriate public education for Endrew F.  The Supreme Court noted that a IEP is unique for the circumstances of the child for whom it was created.  The standard for the student’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, not merely more than de minimis progress from year to year.

Parents and advocates, when you are in attendance at an Admission, Review, and Dismissal meeting (“ARD Meeting”), argue with confidence so that your child to receive an education appropriately ambitious in light of your child’s circumstances.

Estate Planning Seminar March 11th

Good morning! We are getting ready for our joint presentation with Blake Douglas.

Estate Planning – whether you are a college student or grandparent, there are legal documents to assist you and your loved ones in stressful times of need.

Thank you Barbara Pardue for the fabulous Facebook event design.

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See you at the office building 5600 NW Central Drive – large conference room on the 1st floor at 2 pm.


Purposeful Parenting – It Works in My House

In my spare time, I do occasionally read through Facebook posts that show up on my timeline. A friend (from years past) posted an article about the negative impact of parents using sticker charts to reward their children. My comment was brief.

With whatever you as a parent may use in a new behavior strategy, you must have a plan in place to remove it.”

My mistake was that I was commenting on a post of a mother of typical children.  Her response was

“Hmmm, that’s an interesting term, ‘behavior strategy.’ I guess my strategy is just to treat to kids with respect and love.”

Now, I know this person.  I am not going to infer that by her comment she meant that I do not treat my kid with respect and love.  My parenting is purposeful or else my child with Autism can run off, get hurt, or worse.  One example of a parenting strategy I have used in the past is rewarding my son with stickers.

Years ago, my son rejected food due to tactile issues.

This was especially difficult for me as I come from a family who owned Greek restaurants.









Food was quite important in my childhood. As a new mother, having a child who would not eat anything other than watered-down rice cereal was devastating and caused me much fear and anxiety.  The main fear was that his overall health could be affected.

An Autism consultant offered a solution – a reward system with a visible chart to indicate when my son ate a new food item.  The sticker charts were a success in encouraging my son to eat one new food item a week. This strategy took months; however, it worked for us. Currently we don’t use sticker charts for introducing foods and thankfully my son will eat most foods.

In my house, there are strategies and planning sessions to set and accomplish goals for my son.  No apologies for my version of purposeful parenting.

Backyard fun

Estate Planning – Protecting the Future Interests of Those You Love

Planning for the future of your loved ones in the event of your death is generally a difficult topic for many. Unfortunately, those of us who have family members with disabilities cannot afford to ignore estate planning. Many hours of hard work by parents and caregivers go into the qualification process for government benefits for our disabled children and relatives. Twenty-page forms to fill out and hour-long calls with multiple agencies are just a couple of examples of what parents endure to obtain essential benefits for their children. Rules for eligibility for State Waiver programs, SSI and Medicaid are confusing.

What parents, family members, and close friends do not want to see happen is the disqualification of eligibility of benefits. To avoid possible disqualification of benefits, I have seen grandparents attempt to do the right thing and disinherit certain grandchildren, out of love and out of a misguided attempt to protect their loved ones with disabilities from losing benefits. The law provides a better way to protect your loved one’s eligibility for benefits through Special Needs Trusts (“SNT”).

Special Needs Trusts can offer protection of assets and income. Special Needs Trusts allow friends and families to enhance the quality of life of a special needs beneficiary.

“Income” for most public benefits agencies is defined as:

(a) actual cash distributions to the individual, and
(b) distributions that could be converted to food and shelter, and
(c) in-kind support and maintenance.

The more practical trust that is utilized is a 3rd party Special Needs Trust. Parents and grandparents who leave an inheritance to a child with a disability will

(a) create a 3rd Party Special Needs Trust,
(b) obtain a Taxpayer ID Number from the IRs, and
(c) draft a Last Will and Testament naming the trustee of the SNT as the beneficiary.

If you do not have a Will, Texas Intestate Succession law could distribute your estate directly to your child, thus creating another scenario where government benefits could terminate.

Another “funding” source for a Special Needs Trust – If you or someone you know is anticipating the eventual relocation to a nursing home, applicants should review eligibility laws of the Texas Medicaid Program. The state has a “look back” period of 5 years to review transactions that may have been made to spend down an estate to reach eligibility for Medicaid. Many transfers of income and assets can subject the Medicaid beneficiary or applicant to a transfer penalty. There are certain transfers of assets that are not subject to penalty such as contributions to a Special Needs Trusts for a person under the age of 65 with a permanent and total disability. Another transfer example is payment to an attorney for estate planning.

Contact The Filis Law Firm for more information on Estate Planning that will be most suitable for you and your family.