I Would Never (Or So I Thought): My Changing Perspective on My Care Needs #31Days2022

Hi everyone. Today’s optional prompt for #31Days2022 is “never”. I am immediately reminded of my shifting perspectives on my care needs over the 17+ years that I’ve been in the care system. Some things I thought I’d never accept, let alone want, in my care, are now things I wish for.

Most notably, in 2008, when I’d been in the psych hospital for about three months, I was being discussed among some autism know-it-alls. When asked what I wanted them to know before the meeting – since I wasn’t present at the meeting itself -, I wrote down that I wanted to be back in the community as much as possible as quickly as possible.

Out of the meeting came the recommendation that I be transferred to an autism treatment facility on psych institution grounds. I eventually ended up going to the orientation visit for the facility and the treatment coordinator and I mutually agreed it wouldn’t be the best place for me, precisely because of what it was: a treatment facility. I didn’t need further training in independence skills, after all, because, due to the combination of my disabilities, this wouldn’t be successful.

At first, I however misunderstood the meeting’s recommendations and thought they wanted me to go into the workhome, which is essentially a long-term living facility for autistics on the same institution grounds. And this is where I started to object in a way I wouldn’t now: I didn’t want to go live on institution grounds long-term.

For the first several years of my experience in the care system, I thought that institutionalization was an excuse for poor care. I am not saying it isn’t, because people who live in the community may need more support than those who live on sheltered institution grounds. In fact, when my current care facility was built in 2015, grouping several community-based care homes together, it was out of a need for budget cuts.

However, that wasn’t the reason I didn’t want to live on institution grounds. Indeed, the reason was the fact that I perceived myself as far more independent than I currently perceive myself. Not just that, but I had a misguided view of the amount of care I could receive.

You see, in 2007, I left an independence training home, where, during the week, the staff/client ratio was usually 2:7. Granted, there was no night shift, not even a sleeping one. I could deal with that at the time and, as a result, thought I could live in a community supported housing facility with staffing available even part of the day. Never mind that this usually meant a much lower staff/client ratio, so that within staffing hours, I would need to share my staff with a larger number of fellow residents.

I also rebelled against living on institution grounds because of my wish that more people could be integrated into society with the right support. Then again, I realized within the past several years that just because I and other people would wish for integration within society, doesn’t mean society wants us in it. For example, institution grounds are just much safer to walk on for people who aren’t safe in traffic, and that happens to include me. Just because I wish all drivers would stop their vehicles when they saw me, with or without my white cane, doesn’t mean they do. And it’s not like they can’t tell I’m disabled when I’m not using my white cane.

Also in 2008 or maybe it was 2009, I saw this documentary about a care agency in the southwest of the Netherlands which had completely done away with institution grounds in 1997, even for the most severely disabled clients. The presenter started out by saying that half (I think) of the clients in another province wanted to go back into institutions. The southwestern agency’s director started talking highly of his agency’s approach, where for instance they call their support workers “personal assistants” and where he at first claimed all clients are successfully integrated within the community. The presenter started showing examples of clients who were drowning, figuratively speaking, in the community. The bottom line of the documentary was that the director made up his mind and invited the presenter to come back a year later to hear his revised approach. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t believe the presenter, saying the clients had obviously not received the right amount of support. But if you need a “personal assistant” by your side all the time in the community while you can roam institution grounds freely by yourself, living in the community isn’t necessarily the obvious choice.

Making Up My Mind: Why I Want to Live in an Institution

Last week, the behavior specialist for my care home came by for a visit to discuss my housing profile. This is the thing with my wants and needs with respect to a new prospective care home on it. I initially wasn’t too picky, saying for example that I would most like to live on institution grounds but if that isn’t possible, a quiet neighborhood home would do too. Then when I talked to my husband, he said that an integrated neighborhood doesn’t get much quieter than my current neighborhood in Raalte. He also told me I don’t need to make compromises about where I want to live as of yet, since I will be looking to stay in my prospective new home for the rest of my life.

The reason I initially compromised about living on institution grounds, is that my current care agency has only one such institution and that one at least wasn’t admitting new clients back in 2019. I’m not sure about right now or whether not admitting new clients means they aren’t keeping a wait list either. However, I was wary of contacting other agencies due to the bureaucracies involved. Then my husband said though that this shouldn’t be something for me to worry about.

Eventually, after talking about it with my assigned home staff, my husband and my mother-in-law, I decided to make up my mind about my wishes for the housing profile. I said I’d really like to be looking at institutions.

This does mean I had to drop my objection against contacting external agencies. I offered two agencies we could contact other than my current one. One has an institution in Apeldoorn, the city I grew up in, and another in a small town elsewhere in Gelderland, about a 45-minute drive from Lobith, where my husband lives. For reference: Raalte is about a 75-minute drive from Lobith and I did agree with my husband that I won’t be looking at care homes that are farther away. The other agency has an institution near Apeldoorn and one near Nijmegen. I’m not sure the one near Nijmegen was acceptable distance-wise to my husband, but the one near Apeldoorn certainly was.

Both agencies are unlikely to refuse to consider me based on my IQ alone, even though both primarily serve people with intellectual disability. The reason I think so is that both also serve other populations and I have some experience with both agencies.

I do feel all kinds of feelings about the fact that I’ve made up my mind. For one thing, I do feel some form of shame about wishing to live on institution grounds. Back in 2006 and 2007, I wrote agitated articles about the fact that deinstitutionalization was said not to be working by some non-disabled advocates for the disabled, claiming it was poor care, not community living, that was at fault. I meant, for example, the fact that people in the community need more support to go outside if, for example, they aren’t safe in traffic, than they would need in institutions. Then, if that support isn’t provided, it’s no wonder they’d rather go back to living in the woods.

Now one of the reasons I want to go into an institution is the fact that I don’t feel safe leaving my home and the only way of preventing me from leaving it anyway is locking me up. Now tell me again you want the least restrictive environment.

Another feeling has to do with the institution in Apeldoorn specifically. My family home was quite close by that institution. So close in fact that I remember one day when I was eighteen, having an encounter with the police and being asked whether I’d run away from there. I know my parents would feel intense shame if I moved there. Then again, they probably feel intense shame at the fact that I live with people with intellectual disabilities already. Besides, who cares what my parents think?

I do have a few things I need to consider when looking at external agencies. For example, my current agency provides free, pretty much unrestricted WiFi in all rooms of all its homes and it’s available to clients if they wish to use it, which I do. I am not sure the other agencies do, but I will inquire about this when the need arises.