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Residential Services

An option for some with autism

March 2014

There are many ways to help a child with autism prepare for life as an adult. Most kids with autism grow up living at home, receiving support and services from the school system or private agencies. Some require more intensive care through residential services.

For a child to need to live outside of the family home, behaviors in school, at home or in both settings are beyond what the family can handle. Behaviors like self-injury, aggression or serious task refusal such as not eating or walking may be constant issues. The goal in intensive residential programming is to focus on helping the child learn to change this behavior.

According to Gina Sandman, licensed mental health counselor and a clinical director at Damar Residential Services, the majority of kids with autism come to a place like Damar because they've been identified for help through their home school. The school will have tried to meet the child's educational needs in every way possible, but if they feel they cannot meet those needs, then one of the most restrictive means of help is residential services. Others may come to the agency through the Department of Child Services.

Making the decision

Susan Rinne, chief executive officer of LIFEDesigns, says it is important families understand what services are available to them. Her advice is to reach out to the Indiana ARC, the state agencies and other families to better understand what support is possible and to evaluate what is best for the child and family.

She also advises parents meet with the Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services (BDDS). This state agency assists individuals with developmental disabilities in need of community supports and residential services. They can detail parents' options and even help provide respite through its caregiver support efforts.

Too often families reach a crisis point before they know their options and the state gets involved in making decisions for their child. "It's so much better if families can proactively look at the residential supports out there," said Rinne.

Transitioning to a new setting

Moving into a residential services setting is a big change. It can be hard to predict how a child will react.

"I've seen some kids who transition very well. They look forward to being around other kids like them. They thrive in the structure we are able to provide…We have also seen a lot of kids really struggle," said Damar's Sandman.

A child who has never lived outside the family home before will likely find the transition much more difficult. It can help to have the child tour the facility before he or she moves to see what the bedroom and overall home or campus looks like and gain some understanding of the facility's rules.

Talking with other families who've chosen residential care also helps. They can speak to the emotions surrounding the decision, describe their own experience and answer questions from a parent's perspective.

"The more informed the parent is about where their child is going to be, the more comfortable they will feel," said Sandman.

Residential care is not forever care. At Damar, for instance, some kids stay a few months while others stay several years. It depends on the individual. The goal is always to get the child back into their family home.

Tags: In This Issue, Special Needs

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