Hitting, head banging, physical aggression, and self-injury are all means of communication for 17 year old Austin to send the message that “he is not OK.”
When this behavior starts, his mother Heather Ratcliffe responds quickly either by turning down the television or changing the channel. If things don’t go his way, the situation can get bad. There have been times where Heather was head butted, thrown to the ground, or had her hair pulled by her son- all in an attempt to get his point across.
At 23 months Austin was diagnosed with severe developmental delay on the autism spectrum. Over the years, like many children, he grew – taller, wider, and stronger. With the combination of frustration and strength he began to exhibit dangerous behavior to himself and his family members whenever he became upset.
This was the family’s warning sign. Austin’s behavior had changed and it became less manageable. Heather then knew she needed more help and decided to put Austin on a list for residential housing for individuals with special needs. It was a very hard day but she realized her son needed more specialized and professional care than she was able to provide for him.
As years passed the family became less and less hopeful that help would arrive. Unfortunately, Heather is not alone in this dilemma. Pat Muir, chairman of Family Advocates United, says “Those families often spend years – not days or weeks – on that list. And that is too long.”
It wasn’t until Austin’s younger brother, Brendan, wrote a letter to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. In his correspondence, he shared his personal experiences at home, expressing that something needed to be done about Austin.
On April 22, after 5 years of waiting, Austin was given a spot at the Lifetime Assistance home on Chili Avenue. Although it has only been a few months, he has really improved his behavior and has been able to experience new things. The home has passes to local museums, something Heather has difficulty offering herself.
In an earlier post we discussed 5 tips for teenagers transitioning to adulthood. We suggested to apply for residential housing early, far before the deadline approaches. There are resources available but processing can take quite some time. In the case of Austin and Heather, the family was placed on the wait list for 5 years before landing a spot. Those years are crucial and it is usually to the child’s detriment to wait years for available housing.
To read the original article please visit The Democrat & Chronicle
Written by Raiza Belarmino