Gus "Big Stuff" Hanson of Missoula, MT
by Gus's Family
Our Gus is sunshine or thunder. His joy is deeply felt and absolutely infectious. His anger is fierce and results in injury to himself, to others, and damage to property. In 2015, despite years of behavioral therapy and the love of a family that treasures him, Gus’ needs outpaced our ability to keep him and others safe. When we could no longer keep his younger brother safe, or the innocent bystander in a park or store, we did what seems unthinkable: we left our son in Shodair’s locked Grasslands Unit and refused to pick him up.
Our son is nonverbal. He could not communicate with Shodair’s team effectively and, though very kind, they were not trained to work with a person with severe autism. We got to this desperate point because, despite regular meetings with DPHHS representatives from December 2013 on, when the situation became truly dangerous Montana had no resources, program, or placement for our son. We were unable to pick Gus up from Shodair because we knew, if we brought him home, the state would turn its back and continue to hope we would manage on our own. Our refusal to bring Gus home, an act I find unbearable to recall, ultimately prompted placement 2,000 miles away in a behavioral treatment facility in Mississippi. The staff was experienced and patient. Gus stabilized. After 15 months, our DPHHS Regional Manager found him a placement in a four-man group home in Missoula run by MDSC. Our son now lives 15 minutes away from us, with a caring (though criminally underpaid) staff trained to provide him the protective, consistent environment he needs.
The pain of getting Gus safe, appropriate placement is impossible to convey. When I consider what my disabled son must have thought about being hospitalized in a locked unit, then sent far away, with no ability to ask a question or understand the situation, I cry and can’t stop.
No family should have to do what we did to keep people safe and get help for their son. And no family should have to place a nonverbal child with developmental disability 2,000 miles from home.
That is why we need placement options for adults with autism in Montana. And that is why I am working to support Proactive Living Facility.
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Updated December 26, 2019
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