We’ve known for a while that our autistic son is going to continue to live with us for the near future, and very likely the far future, too. There aren’t many other options (whether it’s a group home or a shared/assisted apartment) that we feel comfortable with for a high-needs, semi-verbal individual such as he is.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need his space. And, it definitely doesn’t mean that we don’t need ours.
So, for the last year or so, we’ve been strategizing and scheming and dreaming about how we can all live together, sanely, moving forward.
We looked around at various possible options – we discussed multiple creative ways we could modify our existing home; we toured duplexes for sale in our area (a layout that would allow us to put an interior door or passway between the units); and considered houses that either already had a “mother-in-law”-style suite or casita, or had the potential for adding that option.
I wavered through all of this. It felt too soon to be thinking about these options, considering all of the daily support my son still needs. But when we toured these places, our son reassured us that we were heading in the right direction.
Since we’ve moved a lot (my son has lived in 6 houses in his almost 19 years) and since my husband has built a number of spec and custom homes for clients, our kid has walked through many houses. He doesn’t usually pay much attention or seem too interested. But, this time, our son had an opinion. Especially in the “Next Generation” model that featured an attached suite, our kid was quite comfortable and literally putting his feet up in “his” apartment. His enthusiasm in claiming “his space” (and his complete non-interest in exploring other parts of the house) helped me feel like we’re doing the right thing.
I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Even though he needs support from us on many levels, he’s 18. He’s been trying to get away from his hovering parents for years. As teenagers do.
Despite not being able to communicate well, it’s pretty clear that he digs the idea of a place of his own.
Ultimately, we’ve decided to design and build a new home. We purchased a lot around the corner from where we live now and had a designer draw up the plans. My husband/builder has recently submitted everything for permits, and we’re on our way.
I’m excited (and highly nervous) because since we’re literally building from the ground up, we’ll have a chance to design my son’s apartment with his abilities and habits in mind—from easier-to-use faucet handles, to a roomier bathroom, to door alarms and security cameras, to “big kid”-friendly (i.e. sturdy) furniture. That’s a lot of decisions to make (that’s where the nervous part comes in).
A few friends have expressed some surprise to hear that we’re ready to set him up in his own space, probably since I’ve shared my own hesitations. No, he’s not really ready for his own apartment, right now, today. He’ll need years and years of training and support to be able to use his own kitchen, take care of his own house, and be more independent.
But we’re way past ready to give ourselves some breathing room while still living under the same roof. And, we’re trying to think ahead. Preparing for an unseen future and making critical financial and time-commitment decisions about that future is really hard. We’re trying to make our best guess about what our son will need, and what we’ll need, in this new phase of our lives. We think giving him the proper space to learn toward independence will be a good thing.
Right now, we’ve got a piece of dirt and a plan.