Is a Group Home Right for Your Adult Child with Autism?

Confused woman reading book
Confused woman reading book. Getty

Many families feel that a group home is best for their child with autism, especially as he or she ages out of school-aged programs.  Such settings offer a number of advantages, and, depending upon circumstances, may be the best possible option. For example --

  • An adult with 24/7 care needs can be an overwhelming burden to aging parents, and some states make it extremely difficult to access help in the form of aides. 
  • An individual with autism is so aggressive that he or she poses a real danger to himself or his family.
  • An adult with high functioning autism/Asperger syndrome wants to live as independently as possible, far from family, but needs more support than an occasional visit from a drop-in support person.
  • An adult with autism feels isolated living with older parents and no autistic/special needs peers, and there are no appropriate social programs or resources nearby.

Very often, however, a group home really isn't a necessary or desirable choice -- but parents feel that it "has to happen." Why should this be the case? There are really two reasons:

We have a cultural belief that adult children should leave home. In the United States and many other First World countries in the 21st century, there is a belief that all adults over the age of 18 can and should move out of the family home.  This is actually a pretty new and unusual belief: in the past, and in other parts of the world, this expectation didn't and doesn't exist.


Why should a single adult live entirely on his or her own -- neither supporting nor being supported by family?  The answer to this question is obscure; it's just "the way it is," and many parents have it ingrained in their minds that any child over the age of 21 should live outside of his/her parents' home.

Many parents believe that group homes are "forever," and answer the question "what will happen to our child when we die?"  Parents of young adults with autism often see group homes as the answer to the question "so what will happen to him/her when you die?"  They envision themselves aging and dying and their child left alone -- and compare that to a happy, permanent outside setting when their child can continue to live with or without their personal support. 

But group homes are not a "forever" solution.  Staff changes constantly, as do residents and neighborhoods. Perhaps more importantly, so does funding.  During the 1980's and 1990's, institutional settings were closed to support the idea of community-based housing.  In 20, 30, or 50 years, will the group home still be well-funded and staffed? The reality is that you have no idea -- but chances are your child will be moved multiple times at the whim of politicians and government agencies that haven't been born yet!

Before leaping to the conclusion that a group home or similar organized "special" residential setting is best for your autistic child, ask yourself (and your child):

  • Is this something that the adult child him or herself actively wants?
  • Is this something that the family actively needs for safety or health reasons?
  • Are there community-based alternatives that might provide a more inclusive lifestyle if appropriate supports are available (assuming those supports are available)?
  • If a group setting is selected, can you put plans in place for the inevitable day (possibly many years from now) when the group home loses funding or residents/staff members change for the worse?  Is there someone who knows and loves your child who will be actively engaged in and aware of the adult child's situation and needs for decades to come?

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