HOUSING SOLUTIONS

RONNIE'S STORY

 

Ropnnie's home

In 2002 Ronnie lived with his parents and four siblings in an 1100 square foot single story family home. Ronnie was a teen who experiences significant Autism. The home has been heavily damaged by Ronnie; everything is locked including the refrigerator and doors to the bedrooms, garage, pantry, laundry and the outside.

Ronnie’s father provides most of the direct support to Ronnie on a daily basis. He accompanies his son everywhere including into the bathroom to keep him safe and focused and to prevent damage to the room.

Because Ronnie had been expelled from school and exhausted his short-stay out-ofhome crises intervention option, he spends his day at home with his father at his elbow.

Ronnie’s siblings do not have guests over to the house because they are embarrassed and afraid of what Ronnie might do.

Ronnie’s behaviors and the inadequacy of the physical environment to meet his needs or the needs of his family have created enormous stress on the family. The situation is no longer sustainable. Without outside help, out-of-home-placement is likely.

What the professionals told us:

  • Because Ronnie lacks executive function he needs structure and help that brings order and predictability in his life.
  • Ronnie has obsessive/compulsive behavior that he is not able to control.
  • Ronnie is very sensitive to changes in his environment.
  • Ronnie desperately tries to control his physical world using strength of will and brute force. He communicates through his behaviors.

What We learned from Ronnie

  • He likes to be involved with water, being outside and looking at himself.
  • He does not like glare or light reflections off glass. her love of water and movement.
  • He will try to fix any imperfections triggering his picking behaviors.
  • He needs to fill the holes in things like electrical outlets, locks, drain pipes, appliances, and without supervision, Ronnie will stuff toilets and sinks.
  • He will test the strength of building materials. He will bang on walls, break windows and destroy fixtures.
  • He gets stuck in patterns he can’t stop.
  • He likes bright colors and being with his siblings.
  • He has a sense of humor. Ronnie laughs easily and will tease playfully when confident and comfortable.
  • He will bang his head on the wall when upset or frustrated.

Ronnie’s Family Needs a Home:

  • Where they all can have a more normal life.
  • That will not be damaged by Ronnie.
  • Where his brothers and sisters can have friends over without fear
  • That enables Ronnie to do the things he likes to do safely.
  • Where there are fewer triggers to Ronnie’s behaviors.
  • Where life with Ronnie is not so stressful.
  • Where Dad is not always at Ronnie’s elbow to keep him safe and protect the household.

Existing Conditions

damaged door

If Ronnie finds any food stored in the kitchen it must go into the sink or down the toilet. The family food had to be stored in locked cabinets or in the garage. Ronnie takes the knobs off of anything that he can.

broken blinds

The doors to the bedrooms were locked to keep Ronnie from disturbing or injuring his siblings, or damaging their belongings.

kitchen

Ronnie likes to look outside. The house windows are single glazed glass and had been broken and re-broken by Ronnie. The windows were always covered, “out of sight out of mind”.

A broken environment is not a home.

livingroon

Furniture and mattresses protect the walls.

If Ronnie gets into the refrigerator “he will pour everything down the sink.” Dad was often called on to restrain Ronnie “until he calmed down.”

Ronnie's closet

Ronnie is big, strong, fast and active. “He does everything hard”. Walls need to be protected from “flying furniture” and his “head banging”.

refrigerator

Refrigerator is locked.

Only the clothing for that day can be in Ronnie’s dresser because he “cannot leave his belongings in the closet alone.” There is no glass in any of the pictures because he can’t tolerate the glare.

If the environment does not work for the person you must restrain, intervene or re-direct.

bathroom

Furniture and mattresses protect the walls.

Without constant supervision everything goes down the toilet. Residential quality fixtures and conventional bathroom construction assemblies and finishes do not meet Ronnie’s needs.

Ronnie's closet

There is only one bathroom for 7 people living in this home. Although water is calming for Ronnie, family pressure for their fair share of time in this room causes conflict and stress.

toilet

Without constant supervision everything goes down the toilet. Residential quality fixtures and conventional bathroom construction assemblies and finishes do not meet Ronnie’s needs.

damaged walls
damaged walls

Door jamb is split. Ronnie will make holes in the wall using his head or his feet. Protecting his brain from injury was a critical factor in designing the soft wall assemblies.

split door-jamb

Wall damage typically occurs in the person’s bedroom or at transition areas such as doorways, room entrances and halls.

garage strorage

The garage is locked to prevent Ronnie from accessing the family food. Personal possessions are also kept here to prevent Ronnie from damaging them.

 
bars on front door

Ronnie does not have good ‘street smarts’ or public safety awareness. This gate is kept locked unless his Dad is with him.

The deadbolt on this door is reversed. You need a key to get out, not in. It is a common way for families to control wandering or running away behaviors. It is a fire safety concern.

fenced in yard

Supports need to be visually connected to all areas of the home and the yard.

The Addition

floorplan existing house

     Existing Floor Plan

plan of addition

     New Addition

It is equally important that the layout and new room arrangements support privacy, independence and choice for all the members of the family .

Ronnie’s Suite

Ronnie’s preferred place is where he can be safe, live a more self-satisfying life on his own terms without the need for constant supervision and control by others.

The parent’s bedroom is located between Ronnie’s suite and the rest of the house. There are two doors into and out of the parent’s room, one leads to the main house. At night they can lock the hallway door. Ronnie must then pass through their room to access the rest of the house, awakening them.

The project added approximately 477 square feet to the home.

finished addition

completed new addition

Interesting things to do outside is as important as what happens inside.

Kitchenette

For Ronnie out of sight is out of mind.

kitchenette

Ronnie now has his own refrigerator. He is less anxious about food because he knows his snack will be there for break time if he doesn’t eat it earlier himself.

The kitchenette and under-counter refrigerator are lockable and part of an instructional program designed to help Ronnie develop new capacities. Hidden doors make it possible to conceal the sink and appliances if desired.

under-counter refrigerator

Returning control to Ronnie when he is ready is the overarching goal for everyone.

Walls and Doors

The hallway provides a soft wall construction assembly above the chair rail to reduce injury from head banging. Wall section below the chair rail is backed with plywood and not easily damaged by kicking.

closet with built in drawers

Furniture and mattresses protect the walls.

The entertainment center is built into the wall. The TV is installed behind 3/8” tempered glass and operated with a remote. A lockable shutter will hide the TV when it becomes a distraction.

hallway

Built-in closet package with drawers save floor space. A lockable door on his closet allows control to be shared until Ronnie is ready to use his closet without assistance.

entertainment center

Ronnie gets “stuck” in a pattern of behaviors he cannot stop.

Ronnie’s Living Area

Ronnie’s suite was designed as his preferred environment. A place where he can live a safer and more self-satisfying life without the need for constant supervision, intervention or restraint.

Unfinished dining nook

Unfinished dinning nook

Tempered glass windows, reinforced framing connections extra blocking, plywood sheeting, reinforced electrical boxes.

Ronnie's living space

Finished dining nook

finished dining nook

Break-away curtain, oak plywood wainscot, oak trims, nylon cover plates, table secured to the wall and floor, Flo-Tex carpeting.

Ronnie’s living space is attractive and comfortable. Special construction assemblies and techniques do not detract from the residential appearance or welcomeness.

If a person never has any freedom how will they learn to exercise freedom appropriately?

Ronnie’s Bedroom

Ronnie's new bedroom

The dresser is built into the closet increasing useable floor space, reduces clutter and supports safety. Access and control to his belongings is shared at first by using a lockable door.

fiberglass door

Ronnie’s new bedroom has a combination of soft wall and reinforced oak wood wainscot. Curtains are attached with breakaway hardware. When Ronnie pulls the curtain down he is assisted in re-attaching it himself.

new closet

Fiberglass doors in metal frames are lightweight and strong. Wind resistance slows the force of slamming.

Ronnie’s Bathroom

new toilet

Hot water is scald-prevented and on demand.

All fixtures are commercial grade, plumbing and under sink connections are concealed.

non-skid and heated floor

Wall hung toilet conceals tank, eliminates tripping hazard, is easier to clean under and will withstand heavy use. The shelving is availablefor instructional materials and schedules.

sink and tub

Non-skid tile floor with drain and heat mat support safety, comfort, hygiene and Ronnie’s independent use.

Ronnie can use his new bathroom in a way that satisfies him without negative consequences.

Ronnie’s Outdoor and Water Activity Area

Wet area includes a water shut off, cleanout, trench drain and hose bibs with both hot and cold water. The dry-deck floor tiles provide non-skid surface and helps control dirt and mud.

backyard

Covered patio outside Ronnie’s suite provides an outdoor activity area and supports his interest and fascination with running water.

wet area

Back yard is inviting. Open spaces allow running, playing and exercise. Fencing provides privacy and security.

Protecting the reputation of a person with disability is always appropriate.

Pictures taken in 2010, eight years after the remodel.

Ronnie’s suite has worked well for him and the family. The walls, doors, finishes, furniture and fixtures have withstood the test of time. Ronnie has the keys to everything now. His siblings often chose to hang out with Ronnie and watch movies or play video games in his place.

walls protected by furniture and mattresses

Walls that were not reinforced with plywood and the non-fiberglass door have sustained damage from Ronnie’s head and feet.

stove

Burners on the stove, control knobs and pots and pans can now be left in place because Ronnie no longer needs to “put them away”.

Ronnies living area 2010

Furniture in the main house is arranged to protect walls. Pictures are glazed with non-glare glass. A keyed deadbolt continues to provide the deterrent to running away.

recently damaged areas

You cannot fix a problem behavior in a broken environment.

Conclusion ~ Self-Directed Living

Ronnie’s addition was completed in 2002. The day he moved in he left his dad standing in the hallway of the main house and closed the door. For several minutes he explored his new suite. He could be heard opening and closing doors, hitting and kicking the walls, running water, flushing the toilet repeatedly all the while squealing with delight. Finally, Ronnie came out and got his father. Pulling him along he demonstrated how everything worked and the differences in the soft and hard wall assemblies using his head and feet.

Eight years out the family reports that the design and construction of the remodel has supported Ronnie’s lifestyle and contributed to his living a more self-directed life and reduced family stress “more than we could have hoped for”.

The goal of the project was to create a preferred space for Ronnie that was designed and constructed to withstand heavy use. Such a space would allow Ronnie to live more freely without hurting himself, others or his home.

The addition featured both hard and soft wall construction, doors, windows, light fixtures, furnishings and drapes that would withstand testing. The entertainment center, kitchen, closets and private bath all included provision that supported Ronnie’s learning independence and control. Scald-prevention, floor drains, wall-hung fixtures, lockable cabinets and an inviting back yard all contribute to this effort.

Ronnie’s parent’s room is located at the joint between the main house and the addition. From this position the parents can monitor his movements at night and help him to control his obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Ronnie prefers his area and often invites his siblings to join him. They can now invite their friends over and live more normally for the first time while Ronnie is home.

 
 

George Braddock is the founder of Creative Housing Solutions www.gbcchs.com a leading housing consultant and general contractor with a 25 year proven track record in pioneering the implementation of person-centered planning principles to more than 1,500 projects and homes for people with autism and other disabilities. He is also an ARCHway Consortium member. This blog article is a first of many articles ARCHway will be posting that George Braddock has written in order to show you the many examples of housing adaptations and modifications for improving the quality of homes for people with autism.

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