Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why I Had To Send My Autistic Child Away, and How I Did It:

For all of those readers who are wondering why I had to send my 13-year-old daughter to a residential school, well the reason surfaced one year ago this month. She came after me and attacked me. She was so enraged about her bed sheet not fitting on her bed properly that she almost broke down the door to come after me—and on more than one occasion that particular morning. Thank God my husband was in the house, because even he had trouble controlling her and he is over 6 feet tall.

This type of rage and attacking me didn’t stop that day, it continued at least once a week. One afternoon I was cooking dinner and she came running down the hall in a fit of rage, but I didn’t know it until she had me cornered in the kitchen and all I could do was turn off the burner to the stove so that she wouldn’t burn herself while she was attacking me. She grabbed me by the head and grabbed a fist-full of my hair and pulled as hard as she could, then she grabbed hold of my cheeks and my neck and pinched my skin as hard as she could, and I could see the rage in her eyes… this was not the child that I knew and loved, this was a monster wanting to hurt me…to hurt someone. The ending: Well it was the usual finale to her attacks, she grabbed hold of one of my hands and bit the surface of my hand so hard that it blew up like a balloon.

Of course I was stunned and horrified and I cried, and I cried, and after that day, I could not be alone with her—and I knew it.

Furthermore, I wanted a more fulfilling life for Meghan. I knew that I couldn't travel in the car with her anymore because I would be attacked there, too, and her brother, Nick, too, for that matter. It only took the wrong music on the radio, or Nick’s voice asking me a question to set her off. And while I was driving, too—Yikes! Talk about crazy! Risky! Where the hell is DSS when you want them!

I wanted her to enjoy more out of life, as we all do for our children. And I knew that a residential school was the only option for her to have a more fulfilling life. And let’s face it, she had me over a barrel and she knew it. She was eating anything she wanted, doing anything she wanted, and she was dragging me around the house like a rag doll because I was too afraid to be her mother.

I must mention, too, that I did have in-home help, especially during the year we spent on the waiting list for her school. I had that extra support person for a few hours a day, but it wasn’t enough to truly help Meghan and to maintain a consistency that she needed. And besides, the turnover rate for in-home help was two people a year—at least, and not necessarily the most qualified people.

Step Two: I knew that my husband was NOT on-board.

It took work on my part to help him understand what life was really like for me at home with her and the risk of being attacked. He knew I was getting attached, now more than ever. And he knows that I'm petite (5’2, 110 lbs) and Meghan was (5’5, 160lbs at the age of 12)—I had to put my foot down and tell him that I couldn’t live like this anymore—and wouldn’t. I explained that Meghan deserved a happier and more fulfilling life, and that she couldn’t possibly get it from me…from us, or from her school—for that matter. Yes, she was failing there, too. Teachers and aids were becoming afraid of her as well. Meghan was not happy and she was letting us know.

Visiting residential schools and listening to them (schools that we respected and that had an excellent reputation) was the key to understanding and helping us in making the right decision for Meghan. It soon became clear that she belong to a school that—not only understood her needs—but also could help her live a more productive and fulfilling life—A future.

As some of you know, we chose a school with an excellent reputation with helping and working with children with autism—and this was the only option for us. Even though Meghan was attacking me at home, I would endure a few hair pullings and biting and scratching for peace of mind later… and it took much later, consequently, a year's worth of waiting, but it was well worth it. (I must point out here that she was not attacking Nick—her brother—only me. I think that she knew that by hurting her brother she would be crossing a line. And she would’ve been right!! Intuitiveness on her part that helped her in the end—she’s now at the best school that she'll ever know!)

Today we know that Meghan is doing fine. She's going out into the community. She's learning at school, again. She's happy with her roommates—her friends, and the teachers all like her and they all like each other.

We all like life a little better too!


Sheryl Lamoureux said...

You have my empathy. My 14 year old Asperger's (plus bipolar & ADHD)son used to rage. I got so tired of being assaulted I finally said "ENOUGH!" We placed him in a residential school where he stayed for 9 months. He came home a new boy. It was hard to do but the benefits were phenomenal. Now my 10 year old bipolar, ADHD daughter is starting to become violent and as she bites and hits me I start thinking of residential placement, at least temporarily.

Anyway congratulations, I think you did the right albeit difficult thing.


Holly Nappi Collins said...

Thanks Sheryl,

Thank you for sharing your story--it helps to know that there are success stories to residential placements. I'm glad that your son is doing so well!