STAATSBURG, N.Y. - Making the decision to move an autistic child into a residential treatment center is one of the hardest decisions a parent will make, and one Laura and Ronald Tomlins of Poughkeepsie agonized over.
“I cried on and off for six months - but we knew it was time,” Laurie told press members at Anderson Center for Autism's recent Media Day, coinciding with Autism Awareness Month (April).
Only those who have actually experienced it can understand the journey a family goes through. Laurie said it was "completely exhausting" trying to raise the couple's son, Ronnie.
From the challenges of completing simple tasks like cutting nails to the intense fear around the possibility of elopement (a common concern for children on the spectrum), Laurie and Ronald knew that their son needed full-time care as an adult, and that residential placement was not an 'if' but 'when' scenario.
"The most difficult part is realizing that they might be better off with full-time treatment, 24-hour support," Colleen Contreni, Admissions Administrator at Anderson Center, told Daily Voice. "There's a continuity."
Contreni said that it's often around the age of puberty that parents are faced with the difficult decision. "It's often around puberty that they realize they may be better off," Contreni said. "Puberty, sexuality... they need a professional to deal with that.
"Then on the opposite end, the parent has done everything so far, and now (after the child is in a residential center) they're not doing it," she added. "There can be a sense of 'who am I outside of this.' It was all about them (the child). Now - what is 'my' identity. Now you can work on your marriage, work on your other son or daughter."
Contreni said when an autistic child has siblings who are not on the spectrum, they can feel neglected. "If there are multiple children who are not autistic, the other siblings can feel neglected, so now you can do things with the family you may not have been able to do before."
Getting information from professionals is key, according to Contreni. "It's such an emotional decision," she said. "We try to help simplify it. Give as much information as possible. Ultimately it's going to be about 'is my kid going to be better off."
Contreni said that sometime parents have a harder time with the transition than the child.
"We provide ongoing support for the family," she said. "And there's lots of parent-to-parent support."
More information about Anderson Center for Autism can be found on their website, which can be viewed here .