Sending My Son with Autism to a Residential School

One Mom's story of the tough decision to send her son with autism to a residential school. Read their story and what went into their choice.

autism residential school

Not every story of autism or special needs is the same. What works for one child and family won’t work the same for another child and family. When we started our journey, it was to share our unique story. We did this because I knew a different take was what the autism community needed. I want to continue that same message, but with a different take. We are going to be sharing other families stories. Today’s post is just that. The story of one mom’s choice to send he some with autism to a residential home:

Why Sending My Son with Autism to a Residential School Was The Best Decision I Made

Post written by Miriam Slozberg, Blogger at MomCrib

My son, who is 14 years old, is not like the average teenager. Most 14-year-old boys are already thinking about dating and may still be interested in collecting comic books, baseball cards, or anything else of that nature. They are also quite independent when walking to the closest store or making their own microwavable dinners. Some even cook, and many like to hang out with their friends.

My son is different. He still has a strong interest in toy cars and motorcycles. He can make his own simple meals, but he needs help with many other tasks. His speech is that of a kindergartener and his independence doesn’t match that of his chronological age. My son has autism and ADHD. From a diagnosis point, he is on the “higher functioning” end of the spectrum, he has complex needs. While his autism is “mild”, his ADHD is severe, so it makes his condition complex.

The Early Years

When my son was born, he had inhaled meconium. As a result, he lost some oxygen even though the doctors did their best to give him as much oxygen as they could. He has the ability to learn and grow, becoming a contributing member of society and become semi-independent. However, even though he is not the worst-case scenario as far as autism goes, he still has significant special needs.

There were signs of him having a disability since he was a newborn. He was in intensive care for 10 days, and he was abnormally fussy as a baby. It took him longer than it would take the average newborn to get the nights and days sorted. At 2 months of age, he smiled and was able to hold onto toys. These were good signs. However, he did not have an interest in interacting. That was very strange for us, as my daughter was very interactive as a baby.

He started walking at 14 months, which is a little out of the average range. He had said a few words by the time he was 2. His tantrums were so severe that the situation was worse than the average ‘terrible twos’ phase. My daughter was an easy toddler and rarely had those ‘terrible two’ tantrums. As time passed by, we realized that my son was different. He was still not interactive and social like the majority of toddlers. He only enjoyed doing puzzles and watching things spin.

The Autism Diagnosis

During his early preschool years, the daycare workers who watched him said he needed to be assessed for autism. That scared me. Even before he was officially diagnosed, my son started going for ABA sessions. They were very expensive. The therapy helped him with his tantrums, and his behavior had improved. Unfortunately, as he got older, more significant issues started coming into play.

Even though my son was always verbal, his language skills were very poor. He developed unhealthy fixations, which are common with autism. These issues became more difficult to handle as he got older. Fortunately, he is completely potty trained. It was a long road to get him there, especially to be night trained. We had to get specialists’ help.

Help Along The Way

My son went to different schools for ABA therapy, which also included speech and occupational therapy. Because of his complex needs, he could not be fully helped by all of the schools. He is on medication for ADHD, but it does not help so much. However, his ADHD is a lot less severe than before.

The older my son was becoming, the more apparent that the age gap between typical boys his age and him was widening. I became more and more depressed. I had gained over 100 lbs in a span of 10 years because I had completely neglected my needs. I could not tend to my typical daughter’s needs because depression was taking over my life. My marriage was suffering. My side freelance business was suffering. I started it when my son was at one of his schools and had seemed to have been doing well there. I felt like I was going through motion in life. I could not find joy in anything.

My husband and I worked with him by doing what the therapists instructed, but he would not cooperate. I literally could not do anymore. I had a black cloud of depression engulfing me. The only thing that gave me hope was that the organizer of the place. She ran a residential school. The school provided the structure that kids like my son need 24/7 so they would evolve and grow. She was proud to say that she was successfully able to get kids that were much lower functioning than my son to become janitors! That gave me hope. If these kids could be helped, then my son certainly could be as well!

One Mom's story of the tough decision to send her son with autism to a residential school. Read their story and what went into their choice.

Finding the Right School 

That said, I got my son to that school. He needed to learn the life skills we tried to teach him at home. He needed to be educated the way he was able to learn. The only thing that was an issue was the funding. After receiving a letter from my psychiatrist stating that my mental health was crumbling and that my son could no longer be at home – we were able to get him placed into that school. It was also noted that I went for therapy and tried different antidepressants, which did not work.

I was very stressed and had to invest a lot of money to get a full psych assessment for my son, but it was all worth it. It helped me find a way to meet my needs again and re-become a fantastic mom to my daughter. My marriage needed work too, so I needed to find a therapist. I was finally in the right frame of mind to do serious life decisions. 

Parents usually need to face major decisions for the family, especially for the future of their children, such as choosing between private school vs public school. While public schools are free and don’t have an admissions process, they don’t have a faith identity and are often under ‘red tape’. Expect larger class sizes in public schools than private schools which can affect a child’s learning. 

Whatever choice parents make, it’s always a good idea to consider the following:

  • Appropriate curriculum for the child’s needs
  • Availability of a program to promote emotional intelligence
  • Student involvement
  • Time factor (morning or afternoon schooling)
  • Proximity (close to home or parents’ workplace)

Standard or residential schooling (for children with special needs)   

Why Sending My Son To A Residential School Was The Best Decision I Made

My son left home in September 2017 at the age of 13. Since then, he has learned a tremendous amount of skills, his communication has improved, and he is far more independent than I could ever imagine. Though he will always have a disability, he will contribute something to society once he becomes an adult. He loves to hang out with others now. He has friends, and maybe he will even have relationships when he gets older. With his own unique sense of humor, I am positive that he will be okay.

I am proud to say that 4 months after my son had left, I finally decided to take care of my health. I have lost over 40 pounds since this past January, halfway my weight loss journey. It makes me feel so much better physically and mentally. I no longer have those nightly scares of reflux or sleep apnea. I have a lot more energy – I can focus on my freelance business, marriage, and daughter.

Every Sunday, I visit my son for a few hours. The visits are usually pleasant. He enjoys the school were and is anxious to get back when our visits are over.

Tough Choices for Parents of Special Needs Children

This article’s message is that parents cannot always meet the urge of their special needs kids, which is okay. Being a martyr will help no one – neither you nor your kids. Sadly, martyrs are seen as heroes of society, whilst if you tend to your own needs, you are seen as a heartless and selfish person. That needs to change!

If there are other kids in the picture, this situation will not be beneficial for them either. You are not a failure if you are unable to provide what your child with special needs requires. The best thing you can do is look into how you can transition your child into a residential school. It is a complicated process but is well worth it.

One Mom's story of the tough decision to send her son with autism to a residential school. Read their story and what went into their choice.

Planning for you child’s future

Additionally, think about planning for your child’s future. This could mean investing money in a disability account or look into a group home or assisted living placements for adults. This way, you won’t have to worry about what happens to your child once he turns 18. Your siblings will also not have to worry about potentially having to care for him once you cannot do so.

I know that my son will never be 100% independent. My hope is that he will be independent enough to need minimal help as an adult. I am also happy that my daughter will not have to worry about taking him on because she deserves to live her own life.

Sending My Son To A Residential School Was The Best Decision I Made

My son is becoming a lot more aware as he matures. I hope that he will get better and better so he can prove others wrong. But that is out of my hands. I have done what was best for everyone involved. Sometimes, your kids with special needs cannot live at home because they need to be in an environment that best for them to thrive.

By Miriam Slozberg

Miriam Slozberg is a Canadian mom of 2 kids, one typical teenage daughter and a teenage son with autism and ADHD. She is a freelance writer, social media manager and content creator with a warped sense of humor. You can find her at momcrib.com, miriamslozberg.com, or expressivemom.com.

2 Comments

  • Rachelle -

    How may I contact you? I have two autistic sons, both with severe ADHD. I can no longer handle them both. One of them is extremely violent, not just towards our family, but towards anyone he encounters. We’ve tried ST, OT, ABA, Neurologist, Psychiatrist, and we are now working with a PhD psychologist. We’ve yet to see any improvement. I need to be able to care for my other kids. Right now, I’m so depressed I don’t know what to do.

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