As parents, we want our homes to be an oasis from the world. Before bringing a new baby into our homes, much time is spent lovingly preparing each space to be safe and warm, and we look forward to our children growing into adults there.
But what happens when our home is no longer safe for us or our children because of the challenges autism spectrum disorder may bring? What if what makes our home safe is for our child to live apart from us and the rest of the family? In this article, I would like to discuss residential treatment centers for autism, how they can help, and what we can do to provide for our children from a distance when necessary.
What is a residential treatment center?
To put it simply, a residential treatment center is a place where someone lives while receiving treatment. However, there is nothing simple about the decision to allow your child to be placed into residential treatment.
When safety or the needs of your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) dictate your choices, you have to do what is best.
What do residential programs provide?
Residential programs are specifically designed to serve children and adolescents diagnosed with ASD and their families in many ways. Their primary goal is to assist children and families with a safe place to live. Aside from housing, a residential program and its treatment team can provide:
- behavior management
- group therapy
- parent training
- educational services
- mental health services
- medication management
Some children have caregivers who find themselves incapacitated in some way that hinders their ability to care for their children. Families who choose this option often require support that is not available in other ways. Although it can be painful, many children who live in residential centers are happy, learning and growing, and can visit frequently with their families.
How are they funded?
Some residential treatment centers are privately funded. Others are supported by the government. Some insurance companies can help families with the costs as well.
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The cost will vary widely for families depending on their location, the facility they choose, the program they enter, and their insurance accommodation. It is best to speak with a special needs financial advisor for advice if you are considering residential care, or to contact your local authority/government service.
Why would children and adolescents need residential programs?
Children and adolescents who could benefit most from a residential program might have severe challenges or symptoms which are or can be harmful such as:
- self injury
- mood disorders
- injury to others
- require around-the-clock care
- intellectual disabilities
- medical diagnosis that could have life threatening symptoms
Some children’s needs and challenges make caring for them at home overwhelmingly difficult or even unsafe. Finding a treatment program that works for them is important. The success of that program depends upon the ability of the team to support them and keep them safe.
What about autistic adults?
Some adults with autism spectrum disorders are unable to care for themselves alone, and need to be in a residential treatment center. While living there, they can receive the support they need while also learning new skills in communication, life skills, and education.
Adults with autism will also gain access to mental health services, a community, medical care, therapy services, and more.
Adults who require this option sometimes have lost an elderly parent. If they have no other family who can or will take them in, they need to live somewhere safe.
What makes a good facility?
Deciding on a place for your child to live, thrive, and enjoy can seem intimidating at first. Here are some key things to keep in mind.
- age of the child
- needs of the child
- proximity of facility near you
- “bedside” manner of staff
- financial requirements
Facilities should allow tours for you and your family to see how things are run, and get a sense of the environment.
Make sure the facility can meet the needs of your child’s mental, emotional, physical, and mental health. Checking these things out is vital, and is the first step in preparing for a good transition.
What does research show about the effectiveness of these programs?
There is evidence to suggest that certain therapies are more effective for children with ASD in center based settings. In center based treatment, children are able to spend more time in therapy than they could at home, which increases the mastery of skills they learned much more quickly.
On the other hand, children and adolescents with autism can be more traumatized when moved to residential centers because of their attachment to their loved ones, a decreased ability to understand the difference between being moved for help or for punishment, and their extreme dislike for changes in routine and environment.
It seems that residential centers can offer great resources and support for children with ASD and their families. The success and effectiveness of the program increases when a significant amount of prep work is done to ensure the child understands and is ready for the transition and experience.
A gradual transition is best. That is not always possible though, and steps need to be taken to help a person through a sudden life change of that magnitude. If these considerations are met, thriving in a residential setting is possible.
Words of encouragement for parents
Caregivers struggling with the decision to place their kid in a residential center often report feelings of sadness, guilt, desperation, and fear. They even get negative feedback from friends or loved ones who do not understand or judge them and their child’s needs.
Our homes are not the only oasis we provide for our families. Day cares, schools, hospitals, grandparents’ homes, even our cars, are extensions used to support our home life. A residential center is no different.
If our children’s needs are being met through someone else, it is still our own provision for them. The quality of life for our family is so important. Sometimes one of our kids living outside of our home, provides a better quality of life for them, as well as quality of life for other members of the home.
There is no guilt or shame in seeking help. Not ever. Good parenting is meeting the needs of all of our kids. That means meeting them where they are and using whatever options are available to keep them as safe, healthy, and happy as possible.
Residential programs are available to those who need them. Families making the difficult decision to place their loved one in residential programs can see their loved one thrive, as well as experience a more peaceful home life.
Families can meet the needs of their loved ones through the many services provided by the programs, and can rest assured that they are cared for properly.
Resources for families
If you are a parent or caregiver who has found yourself needing to find a place for one or more of your kids to live. I personally highly recommend checking out this book by Michelle O’Reilly: Journey to Acceptance: Finding Hope, Support, and Peace for Your Autistic Child.
Michelle O’Reilly will also be featured at the Autism Parenting Summit in April 2022: you can get your access pass here. The summit provides four days of interviews and presentations from experts in the field of autism, parents of kids with autism, and people who are on the autism spectrum speaking on a wide range of helpful topics.
US residential center examples
Monarch Center for Autism
Solomon, L., & Peltz, L. (2008). Separation, autism, and residential treatment. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry = Journal de l’Academie canadienne de psychiatrie de l’enfant et de l’adolescent, 17(1), 26–28.
Dixon, D. R., Burns, C. O., Granpeesheh, D., Amarasinghe, R., Powell, A., & Linstead, E. (2016). A Program Evaluation of Home and Center-Based Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Behavior analysis in practice, 10(3), 307–312. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-016-0155-7