Are you considering inpatient treatment for autism for your child? Here’s important information you must know before taking this critical step for help and support.
- What is Inpatient Treatment?
- Inpatient vs Residential Treatment
- Is There Inpatient Treatment for Autism?
- What Behaviors Do Inpatient Centers Treat?
- Benefits of Inpatient Treatment
- Tips for Taking Your Autistic Child to the Hospital for Mental Health Care
- Inpatient Treatment: Reports of Abuse and Harm
- How to Find the Best Inpatient Treatment for Autism Near Me
- More Autism Resources for Parents
What is Inpatient Treatment?
Inpatient treatment centers are short-term care that take place in hospitals or other institutional settings. Programs are typically 24 hours to 7 days with some programs being 30 days or longer.
Click here to learn more about inpatient treatment programs if your child needs one.
Inpatient treatment is for crisis management and stabilization. These programs are not meant to be a long-term solution.
Inpatient vs Residential Treatment
Sometimes parents speak about inpatient treatment when what they really need is residential treatment. Residential treatment is long-term care that takes place in a facility. Group homes are another long-term option.
For long-term out-of-home care the options are residential treatment or group homes.
Is There Inpatient Treatment for Autism?
There are few inpatient treatment programs that are specific to autism. The reason for this is that autism is a type of neurodiversity. It is not an illness or condition to be cured.
Also note that autism is different from Intellectual Delay or Deficit (ID) which is someone who has a cognitive function that is lower than typical (lower IQ). Many autistic people are not intellectually delayed and are quite intelligent.
A percentage of autistic people do have intellectual delays and may have more significant needs that may require more extensive care. If care for these autistic children and adults is more than what families can manage at home, placement in a residential setting is appropriate to consider.
Adding to the confusion, terminology for autism has changed in recent years. While these changes make the way we understand neurodiversity to become more accurate and appropriate, many people still use older terminology when explaining their child’s diagnosis or behaviors.
Autism is now defined as Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 and the terms “Asperger’s”, “high functioning” and “severe autism” are no longer used.
What Behaviors Do Inpatient Centers Treat?
If you are deciding if you should take your autistic child for inpatient treatment, such as to the emergency room (ER) for evaluation, these are some of the situations where it is appropriate.
- suicidal thoughts or attempts
- schizophrenia and other psychiatric concerns
- seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
- self-harming behaviors beyond what can be managed at home
- eating disorders – click here to read more about signs your autistic child has an eating disorder
- immediately, urgent out of control behaviors
- drug and alcohol abuse
- raging, violence and aggression that cannot be managed at home
- lack of ability to handle tasks of daily living (bathing, eating, sleeping) even with support and assistance
If your child is aggressive and you fear they will harm you, themselves or other family members and you cannot transport them safely to the ER, call the police or 911. Be sure to tell the dispatcher that your child is autistic.
Benefits of Inpatient Treatment
Here are the advantages of inpatient care.
- Evaluation. Your child can see a doctor and/or psychiatrist to evaluate the situation.
- Medication management. While there is no medication for autism, some autistic children take medication to help with other mental health issues such as anxiety or ADHD. These meds will be reviewed and adjusted if necessary.
- Supervised care for your child. If your child is out of control, an inpatient program is a safe location where they will be monitored.
- Links to other services. Inpatient programs have a social worker who can assist you in finding resources in your community, residential care options, or other services your family might need.
- Support for long-term care options. If you believe your child needs to eventually need residential care, inpatient treatment helps to prove the higher level of care is necessary.
- Insurance coverage. While not all treatment options (like group homes) are covered by insurance, most inpatient programs are paid for by Medicaid or private insurance.
However, it’s important to note that inpatient care is not a long-term solution. Inpatient care also does not provide autism diagnosis or in-depth evaluation.
Tips for Taking Your Autistic Child to the Hospital for Mental Health Care
At times, autistic people may need mental health care and inpatient care is appropriate. While all people need to care for their mental health, autistic children and adults have sensory challenges and other difficulties that make being inpatient especially challenging.
According to Spark for Autism, “Children with ASD are nine times more likely to visit an ER for psychiatric problems than children who don’t have autism. Physical aggression, disruptive behavior, running away and hurting oneself are the main reasons for such visits.”
Here are some tips for parents for times when you need to take your child to the hospital for mental health issues:
- Speak with ER staff and inform them of your child’s diagnosis.
- Tell the staff what helps your child. Be specific. Directions like, “Give him a warning before you touch him,” or, “Loud noises make her agitated,” are helpful.
- Explain to your child what is happening, in language they can understand, but only give small pieces of information at once. Explaining in too much detail or saying what you think might happen could create more confusion and fear.
- Ease sensory overload. This could include music to drown out noises, using a soft blanket and pillow from home instead of scratchy hospital sheets, or turning off bright overhead lights.
- Bring calming objects or activities such as headphones, chew sticks or weighed blankets if these help your child.
- Be prepared to wait. Consider an I-pad with a movie or game to ease wait time.
- Bring items you will need such as snacks, a sweater, cash for vending machines, and a charger for your phone.
Inpatient Treatment: Reports of Abuse and Harm
As our understanding of autism grows and more autistic adults are speaking out and expressing their wants and needs, we as a society understand that harm has happened due to institutions and residential treatment for autism.
Here are some of the concerns expressed within the autism community and those who advocate for them:
- Avoid any treatment that says it “cures” autism. There is no cure for autism because it is not a disease. This leads to autism masking. Many autistic adults believe that ABA therapy is abusive due to the intensive nature.
- Lack of understanding from staff about the differences between Intellectual Disorders (ID) and autism. Not all people who are autistic have ID and vise versa. This lack of understanding can lead to improper treatment protocols being used.
- Child abuse. Children with autism are more likely to be abused according to research, so extra vigilance is required.
As a parent, of course you want your child to be safe and receive the best possible care. Be observant, stay with your child during treatment when possible, visit often, and ask lots of questions.
Never be afraid to stand up for your child’s needs. While these steps cannot prevent all negative things from happening, they will go a long way toward making sure your child receives proper care.
How to Find the Best Inpatient Treatment for Autism Near Me
To find acute inpatient treatment for an autistic child, contact your pediatrician for a referral or go to the nearest emergency room. (If your city has a children’s hospital, go to their emergency room.)
If your child is a danger to himself or others, call the police or 911.
Have you taken your autistic child to inpatient treatment or have you considered it? Share about your experience in the comments below.