There is a collective unease about group homes in the South Asian community, especially in the case of admitting individuals with special needs. The discussions the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre (SAAAC) had with various families about group homes reveal mistrust for such institutions.
Additionally, there is a belief that by admitting a child or an adult to a group home one is being disloyal and upsetting the traditional family values. Yet, group homes are vital community institutions that offer support and guidance to many families. By not utilizing and stigmatizing such services, families who are ill-equipped to handle vulnerable members of their family risk not only endangering themselves, but also those who they care for.
The following account is from a SAAAC parent who has gone through the difficult process of admitting her teenage son to a group home:
Sita knew she had made the right choice. Although she loved her son, his recent outbursts jeopardized the safety of her daughter and herself. He would scream, bite, and violent strike anyone in sight. His outbursts were unpredictable, and the volatility and violence of his behaviour were impossible to contain. Sita’s son had a severe form of autism – a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate, socially interact and manage behaviours. Sita realized she had a difficult choice to make: whether or not to admit her son into a group home.
For 18 years Sita faced the challenges posed by autism. Sita’s husband was not supportive. He was in denial and did not accept the special needs of his children. His anger often drove him away from the family. He disappeared for days, weeks, and even months at a time. Consequently, Sita largely cared for her children and managed her home by herself. She proactively tried everything to find treatment for her children, even moving to India for three years to seek an alternative herbal therapy that many of her relatives believed would have yield great results. When that was unsuccessful, she returned to Canada.
In the subsequent months, Sita’s son had become bigger and stronger. At 16 he was 5’10 and weighed nearly 170 pounds. He would strike Sita and her daughter repeatedly, go the bathroom in the middle of their apartment and even take his clothes off and attempt to run outside. “He was getting too big for me to handle,” said Sita. “I could not physically restrain him because he was getting so strong and had stopped listening to me.”
Sita’s son was also becoming easily agitated with his environment. Initially it was certain sounds or tastes or the texture of certain materials that would frustrate him, which would lead to disruptive behaviours, but as he got older, he became more easily aggravated, and his volatility and violent outbursts were more extreme.
It was during this period Sita considered admitting her son into a group home. She had sought advice from her family, but they reacted negatively, telling her that she was giving up on her child and that group homes would treat him badly. Even friends tried to dissuade her, espousing the ideals of parental responsibility and loyalty.
“I could understand why my family and friends reacted the way they did,” said Sita. “I come from a very strict, traditional family where the idea of family is central to life. Many South Asians feel this way, so things like group homes are very scary. To many it seems like you are giving up on your family, taking an easy way out, evening ruining your family.”
Yet, the more Sita tried to keep the traditional concept of family alive and together, the more it eluded her. She had slipped into depression, her husband became less and less present in the household and her son’s behavior was unmanageable. It was becoming apparent to Sita that she was in a situation that she was not suited for. After months of internal conflict she had made the decision to admit her son into a group home.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this story in our next issue….!
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