When looking for a group home for your autistic child, teen or adult, it’s important to know how they will be treated. Autistic adults deserve as much freedom as non-autistic adults, no matter where they live. These questions to ask when visiting a group home for autism will help you consider residential options from an autistic person’s point of view.
Questions to ask when visiting group homes for autism
1. What freedoms do the autistic residents have?
The autistic community regularly advocates for our autonomy (self-government; freedom to behave independently) and agency (ability to act on one’s own behalf). They liken group homes to miniature institutions due to horrific events that have occurred.
Even though you may struggle as a parent to “deal” with your autistic child, they still deserve personal autonomy and agency. They are a human being.
Autistic people who have shared about their experiences living in group homes stress the inability to live life like their non-autistic peers.
- A non-autistic adult may have the freedom of spending Saturday in their pajamas while binge-watching Netflix, even when they live with roommates.
- Autistic people living in group homes tend to have rigid schedules dictated by staff members who decide when they wake up, get dressed, eat meals and snacks, talk to friends and family, and go to bed.
Discussions within the autistic community surrounding group homes compare the lies their parents were told to the realities of their newfound situations. For example, “curfews” are actually bedtimes, no matter their ages. Lights are turned off between 8-10pm, or else the resident loses their privileges.
Autistic people still have human rights. Living in a group home should not trample on their idea of what living life looks like.
2. Are residents allowed to keep their phones? What about other technology?
You want your autistic child to have a way of contacting you at all times. Some group homes may reject phones for privacy reasons, but autistic people are vulnerable to abuse losing their agency.
If you respect and love your autistic child, you want them to have the true freedom of keeping their phones on them.
The autistic community has found freedom in the internet and social media, including members society has deemed “severely autistic”. Severe autism doesn’t exist, but “autism” co-existing with intellectual disabilities does. By themselves, these autistic people have managed to cultivate online followings and connect with other members in the community.
Ensuring your child can communicate with you on their own terms creates a channel they can use if something “bad” happens.
The ability to keep other technology allows them to pursue special interests and connect with their community.
3. Are autistic residents allowed to pursue romantic relationships?
People on the autism spectrum are infantilized, sometimes even sterilized without their consent. This is especially true when it comes to dating and sex.
Although relationships are as complicated for autistic people as they are for allistic people, autistic adults still deserve the chance to find love as much as non-autistics. If they are interested and both parties are consenting adults, they should be allowed to safely.
Equip your autistic child with the proper knowledge and accept the possibility of them wanting to date someone. Even adults with intellectual disabilities want love, too. Trying to prevent them from romance is not your decision.
4. Is the group home LGBTQ+-friendly?
Autistic and similarly neurodivergent individuals, including those with intellectual disorders, are more likely to identify LGBTQ+ than neurotypical individuals.
Being surrounded by other autistic people is one thing. Identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community is another. The two do not go hand in hand, and autistic people are capable of bullying other autistic people who are different from them.
If your child has not come out, it doesn’t mean they won’t in the future.
5. How are meltdowns handled?
Unless you have a strong stomach, don’t go searching for the stories about autistic adults who had meltdowns in group homes.
Out of the fight, flight, freeze or fawn responses, meltdowns are the fight. It’s a state of distress — think of it like being on fire. Your whole body is on fire, and the only way to put that fire out is to self-regulate.
Autistic individuals have mentioned being put into “safe rooms” — white, padded rooms — alone, with the door locked from the outside, until they “calm down”. This is after staff has tackled them onto the floor and managed to restrain them.
Locking us in “safe rooms”, or any room where we are all alone during our worst times, only increases shame. It’s punishment. Don’t punish autism meltdowns.
You want to know how meltdowns will be handled, and you don’t want them to be handled like above. Autistic people need to feel safe during and after meltdowns, not ashamed. Meltdowns can turn into autism shutdowns, which can turn into autism burnout — all of which can lead to severe depression with suicidal tendencies.
6. Will your autistic child/adult be medicated or held down against their will?
As an autistic adult with personal experience of these actions in childhood and adulthood, I attest that the dangers of enforcing compliance in autistic kids and adults is true.
Autistic women grow up surrounded by the concept that women should be manageable and “easy”, making them targets for assault. Inconvenience and fear are not valid reasons for restraining anyone. Your autistic child won’t understand why this circumstance is acceptable, but “more dangerous” circumstances are not.
Disabled and/or neurodivergent individuals are often medicated against their will and deemed not in their “right of mind”. In truth, they often are in their right of mind when self-advocating and expressing their concerns. We don’t have the privilege of honestly expressing ourselves in front of other people.
Specific questions to ask:
- Will they be sedated during meltdowns?
- Will they be given medication to make them more compliant, sleep, etc.?
7. Can group home residents graduate out of the program?
Some group homes teach essential life skills and help autistic people get jobs. A few group home programs that offer these services allow the autistic adults to “graduate” from the program, so they can live alone or with roommates.
Ask if the group home works similarly to a rehabilitation program, so your autistic child will have the option of living outside of a group home setting if they want to one day.
Neurodivergent individuals who befriend each other often find they are capable of living independently, together, by sharing needs. For example:
- Person A might struggle to clean up after themselves, but is great at cooking.
- Person B struggles with meal prep, but can drive.
- Person C struggles with all of those things, but is great at meal planning, finances, creating chore schedules, and delegating tasks.
All of these people might live together and do well together, regardless of additional disabilities. They might meet each other while living in a group home.
Use these questions to guide you in helping an autistic family member choose the housing situation where they will be most independent and successful. If you have questions about autism housing, share them in the comments below and we will respond.