In July our family began a new chapter in our lives…my 32 year old son with Autism moved from our family home into a group home. We knew it was time but the thought of it was difficult to contemplate… How would he react… would he think we were pushing him out??? How would we help him to understand and support him in seeing this as a positive move for him? Thought and emotions were flooding in…
We had begun to accept the need for our son to move from our home many months before the move. It is a process of coming to terms with this. It was hard to contemplate not having him at home with us. There had been no natural life progression, such as going to college, which leads to a son or daughter moving out of the family home. Beyond that, he will continue to need significant support throughout his life. It is a different journey when a son or daughter has a significant disability.
Once we accepted the need, we began the preparation process with a story about adulthood which was developed with the support of his counselor. My son has always done well with stories that have pictures to highlight the ideas presented in the story. The pictures really help to draw his attention and keep him engaged as the story is reviewed.
We began the story with pictures of him as a baby, then a young child, then a older child, then a “big guy”, and then as an adult man. Seeing his growth visually helped him to understand the process of growing into adulthood. The story went on to describe what adults do..some have jobs, some volunteer, and they have various leisure interests. Then we introduced the idea that at some point, adults move out of the house that they have lived in with Mom and Dad. We described various living arrangements…some people live in a house, others live in an apartment or condo. Some people live alone, others live with roommates. Some people live alone but have staff that help them with things such as shopping, cooking and cleaning, and going for a haircut. All these were depicted using people he knew. Some live in a home with others and they have staff that are with them at all times. We related this to his knowledge of a group home he was familiar with. We gave the assurance that when an adult moves out of their family home, he or she still see their Mom and Dad, they will come to visit, and the adult will go home to visit also. They still celebrated holidays and birthdays together. Mom and Dad still love their adult son or daughter and that would not change.
Once we found a group home that would be appropriate and we received final approval from the state for his placement, he began to visit there. He already knew some of the people who lived in the group home, which was great! He had many visits which increased his familiarity and gave the staff there some opportunity to see his current staff interact with him. Pictures of the visits were taken, including pictures of visits to the local YMCA where he exercised on the treadmill. Exercising at the Y fitness room is something that he has been doing and so brought in an aspect of familiarity. Using these pictures, we created another story about visiting the group home. This story was reviewed with his counselor over several sessions. Repetition of the information with someone he had developed a trusting relationship with was very supportive to the process.
Once we had a move-in date, we created a story about the move, again with pictures of where he would be living. His room had been set up with a new bed that he tried out in the store before we purchased it. He loves it! He had the things that we know he enjoys and we felt would give him comfort as well as adding some familiarity in this new environment. This story was read with his counselor to help him process the move.
Meanwhile I had developed an extensive list of things to know about my son that would facilitate the transition. There are so many little things that needed to be communicated, things that we knew and that were very important for the staff that would be supporting him to know. I started the list and went back to it many times to add things as I thought of them. It was definitely a work in progress.
As his speech is difficult to understand for people who do not know him and have not spent time with him, I made visual icons of foods he liked and requested. I also created a visual schedule as his routines would be different in this new environment. A visual schedule would allow him to understand what was going to happen and to give some input to activities he would like to do. . I knew it would be important to give him as much information as possible in the format he could best access and understand (visual vs. auditory).Visuals he uses to communicate how he was feeling, if anything was hurting are crucial as we knew he would not verbally be able to accurately share this information
Several meetings were set up to facilitate the transition. My son was already known to other staff in the agency as the group home is run by the agency that had been working with him for many years. They read him well, understand his needs and know how to successfully support him. It was crucial that their knowledge be shared with staff that would be new to my son. There were so many little things that the new staff needed to know as he would not be able to tell them. Although he is somewhat verbal, his ability to communicate verbally for purposes beyond requesting specific things, mostly food, is limited. If he became anxious or had physical discomfort and they did not know how to read the signs and give him the visual supports that had been created to communicate physical pain or did not pick up his need to use sensory strategies to help him feel calmer, he would be left to communicate behaviorally.
All of the planning did indeed support a smooth transition. He has adjusted well, is comfortable and happy in his new home, and he has the support he needs to help him enjoy the good times and to safely navigate the challenging times.