Your high-functioning autistic child might need residential treatment when you can no longer help them. Yes, this might be true even if they are high-functioning. Read on to learn why.
- Why high-functioning autistic people might need residential treatment
- Signs your high-functioning autistic child is secretly struggling
- How to help your high-functioning autistic child while they're struggling
Why high-functioning autistic people might need residential treatment
When it comes to residential treatment, exhausted parents of low-masking, overstimulated children wonder if there is a higher level of care that would help their child. Burnt out autistic adults are wondering the same: What about residential treatment for me?
Considering the fact that low-functioning, or low-masking, autistic children are seldom only autistic and have additional diagnoses that are ignored in favor of using autism as an umbrella term, a devastating number of actually autistic people are left hanging in the wings. They are not getting the mental health treatment they need, and residential care can provide that.
1. Functioning labels prevent high-functioning autistic people from getting the help they need.
There is a common, damaging assumption that high-functioning autistic people don’t need help or access to as many resources as low-functioning people. However, functioning labels are not actual medical diagnoses. Functioning labels describe how non-autistic people experience our autism, hence why autistic culture rejects it.
Low-functioning autistic people are more likely to gain access to resources because they often fit the stereotypical expectations of autism.
Your high-functioning autistic child is high-masking. All their successes that you celebrate ignore their struggles. This isn’t cause for immediate concern — by all means, keep celebrating those successes!
But do understand that autistic people don’t have that “I Must Stop” button that keeps them from getting overwhelmed, unlike non-autistic people. In the blink of an eye, your high-functioning autistic child can turn into an extremely low-functioning one.
At best, functioning labels help you gain immediate access to resources. At worst, autism functioning labels enforce harmful stereotypes and prevent autistic people from being taught life skills they’ll need to live independently.
2. Skilled learned in school don’t extend beyond the classroom.
Behavioral therapy is not real therapy in relation to autism. There is no “therapy” involved. Rather, it conditions the autistic person to learn how to mask their autistic traits in exchange for love, acceptance and socialization.
Masking has long-term detrimental effects on autistic people’s psyche, leading to adult burnout and/or severe depression. In a nutshell, masking puts your child in chronic stress mode at a young age that they will struggle to figure out how to escape in adulthood.
Success in applied behavior analysis (ABA) is defined by an autistic child acting in a way that is not naturally themselves. On the inside, they are struggling to maintain the mask. We know we’re different.
Due to the mask, parents and everyone else with the power to get us the help we need do not see signs of us needing help unless they are familiar enough with autistic masking to see.
Thus, too many autistic people fall through the cracks and enter adulthood with no clue how to be an adult. Some might succeed for a couple of years before burning out.
Success in regard to an autistic child should only ever truly be in favor of the autistic child. We need to learn how to safely self-regulate so we can cope and not fizzle out. We need life skills, not classroom skills, so we will know how to manage our finances, feed ourselves, and live life outside of survival mode.
“Success” in regard to autistic children and people should never be dependent on how well they appear “normal”. Your high-functioning autistic child will never be normal. There is no “normal”, but beyond this issue: Your high-functioning child burn out eventually, and their life will fall apart as a result.
3. Neurotypical society was not built to accommodate autistic people.
Life is hard as an autistic person. No matter my rights to accommodations, there will always be at least one supervisor who thinks they know more about my abilities than everyone else and decides to challenge them. Sometimes, it’s even the store manager.
When I began writing here, I disagreed with autism communities because they fit the eugenic stereotypes. Then I found stories of some autistic adults in residential facilities while researching. Not only do they have friends, but they also do not live as stressful of a life.
In fact, many of them are thriving. They make videos on TikTok together, they share social media posts. A few are on a path to “graduate” from the program with money in savings and goals to travel or buy a house.
Your autistic child will never be normal, but they will have a chance at trying to live a normal life if you work with them to meet their needs.
Signs your high-functioning autistic child is secretly struggling
How do you recognize whether your high-masking autistic child isn’t getting the help they need? I understand how distressing it might be to learn that your child isn’t doing as well as they present.
For what it’s worth, it is equally distressing when we realize the non-autistic people in our lives do not recognize that we’re not being true to ourselves. Here’s how to recognize the signs of an autistic person struggling underneath their mask.
Ages 2-9 – Sings of Autism Struggles in Children
Autistic children before the preteen years show more subtle, yet obvious signs of internal distress.
- Does your child speak less than before?
- Do they display signs of lowered self-esteem?
- Are they anticipating your approval more than they did prior?
- Do they stim more or pull out their hair? (Trichotillomania is a form of OCD, not autism, but perfectionism and/or OCD traits are common in high-masking autistic individuals, especially those assigned female at birth.)
- Is there play more aggressive than usual?
Ages 10+ – Warning Signs in Teens & Adults
Puberty affects autistic children differently, so your household is bound to experience more meltdowns and shutdowns. However, struggling autistic preteens and teens might:
- Play a sport or participate in a club to the maximum and excellent at school, but have a messy room, forget to eat and shower, and be too tired to help you bring in the groceries.
- Exhibit an inability to control their temper.
- Engage in harmful behaviors, like drinking, smoking and unprotected sex, as a way to seek sensory stimuli .
Of course, these are not defining signs, but hopefully they will help you learn how to recognize subtle differences. Look for instances where their mask slips and their autism shows. It might look like a seven-second smile that washes away when they notice or a giggle that slips when someone falls.
Note: Laughing when someone else gets hurt is not malicious behavior by default, but rather an expression of awkwardness, familiarity or discomfort.
How to help your high-functioning autistic child while they’re struggling
The best thing you can do is not dismiss a resource or possibility in the event that your child may benefit from it.
Non-autistic people are often defined by their social relationships, so they act and behave with consideration to what their friends would think. For the sake of your autistic kid, please stop caring what they think. The people who think ill of you for helping your child do not define you.
Please remember to take care of yourself as well. Remember that you are not a failure because you didn’t recognize your child was struggling. The issue lies in the double empathy problem; you can’t read autistic people, and that’s okay.