Should Our Child with Autism Live in an Out-of-Home Setting?

saying goodbye
saying goodbye. Getty Images

Should a child or adult with autism live a group home, boarding school, or other specialized, out-of-home setting? This is a topic that creates a great deal of controversy, for a huge range of reasons. 

Why is the topic so controversial? To begin with, the very question suggests that "people with autism" are similar enough to be discussed in the same breath. Of course, that's nonsense. Consider these very different situations:

  • Should a four-year-old who is prone to bolting, stimming, and other autistic behaviors be sent to a boarding school for autistic children because he is taking too much parental attention from other siblings?
  • Should a non-verbal, aggressive, 200 pound 15-year-old who cannot self-toilet or reason beyond the level of a toddler live with young children or aging parents?
  • Should an autistic teen who feels lonely and pushed aside by typical peers be sent to an autism-only school where he will be more likely to find others with similar interests and challenges?
  • Should a verbal, gentle 12-year-old who can generally care for herself with help and support be asked to leave home and live in a group setting on the basis that she has an autism diagnosis?
  • Should a grown man with very high functioning autism who holds down a good job, has friends, and drives a car be provided with free room, board, and transportation on the basis that he has an autism diagnosis?

    Most people would respond very differently to these completely disparate situations -- and rightly so.

    But disparities among people with autism is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to differences in opinion over group homes and boarding schools for people on the spectrum. The issue seems to touch on many of the most sensitive spots in our culture.

    For example -- what are a parent's moral obligations to a child with special needs? What role should the individual with special needs play in making decisions about his or her own future? What is an appropriate way to play for the long term needs of an adult who will not be able to care for him or herself?

    Here's how some of these debates are framed:

    • Many adults with autism and autism advocates are appalled at the idea that such critical decisions are made for, and not with, the autistic individuals themselves. Some parents, however, feel strongly that they see the big picture and have the best interests of their child at heart -- and that they have the right to make such decisions.
    • Some parents believe that God gave them a child with autism to care for and that sending that child away (even in extreme circumstances) is a breach of their duty to God's will. Others feel that autism is simply a disorder which they didn't ask for or plan for and that making a choice to send a child or adult on the spectrum is a practical rather than religious matter.
    • Quite a few parents are concerned that their child will have nowhere to turn after they die, and thus believe that a group setting is a more secure long term setting for an adult with autism. Other parents are comfortable with the idea that they will be able to either provide their adult child with the support they need through a combination of friends, family, services, or other provisions.
    • Some parents are very concerned that having a child with special needs in the home will undermine their ability to live their own lives and to care for other siblings. Other parents feel that having a child with special needs in the home enhances their own lives and the lives of siblings (assuming, of course, that safety is not a major concern).

    Where do you stand on these issues? No doubt many of your feelings are based on your particular beliefs, circumstances. challenges, and needs. Bottom line, there is no right answer!

    Continue Reading