Calling For Help: A Treasure Valley Family's Fight Against the State
Aaron Harding acts and looks much younger than he is. "He doesn't seem 27," said his stepfather Rockwell Smith. "He presents more like 17 or 18. The reality of it is his reasoning ability his judgment ability is what is in question." Aaron is developmentally disabled, born with fetal alcohol syndrome, something his adoptive mother didn't find out until he started school. "At one of the tests they did tell us he would reach a cap and that would be it," said Bev Smith. "I remember being disheartened."
Little did the Smiths know, their biggest challenge for Aaron would come decades later, in a fight with the state over that cap. For years, tests proved Aaron functions like a seven year old. Yet because of a state funded program called "self direction," Aaron can live on his own. Medicade money allows his family to hire staff to assist Aaron with anything he needs. The self direction program requires participants to be tested every year to make sure they have a functional age no older than eight. "They need to be at a level of care that they need to be institutionalized if they didn't have this waivered service," says Health and Welfare Spokesman Tom Shanahan.
For years, Aaron fit. From 2004 to 2009, he never tested at a level higher than 7 years 10 months. So when the results came back in 2010, the Smiths were shocked. According to the assessment, Aaron now functioned almost like an 11 year old. A score that kicks him out of the self direction program.
The only difference in the 2010 test was who took it. The assessment is given to the person most familiar with Aaron whoever the family chooses.That person answers a series of questions about Aaron and Aaron is asked some questions too. For the first time, the Smiths had Aaron's staff take the test, rather than his step-father. The state ended up testing two caregivers and Aaron. The Smiths say their results skewed high because the staffers didn't understand the test directions. They decided to fight the findings and until they had a conclusion Aaron would be allowed to stay in self direction. The only thing the Smiths asked for was a new test.
During the hearing one care-giver testified she felt "rushed" during the assessment and was not offered the opportunity to ask questions or clarify her responses. The other staffer said he would have scored Aaron much lower if he had understood the test. Health and welfare argued the results were valid. "In developmental therapy you're trying to help them improve their skills everyday and improve their functionality," says Shanahan. "So you do expect a change in many cases."
After almost a year and two appeals to Health and Welfare the Smiths lost their case - out $15,000 in legal fees. And Aaron could now no longer participate in a program that worked so well for him.
Fortunately for the Smiths, a solution came about quickly. The same solution they argued for all along. Two months later the state gave Aaron his annual test. It turns out, he functions as a six year old.