Parents Struggle to Seek Help Caring for Adult Children

Ostavar said that outsiders often incorrectly assume that all parents who feel unsafe living with their adult, disabled children have no reservations about placing them in assisted-living facilities.

"It's not an easy decision," she said. "It's heart-wrenching."

Another common misperception is that as children get older they become easier to handle, even with their disabilities. But age, Ostavar said, often has no bearing on how easy a child is to control.

"Even with a typically growing child, you might think that a 2-year-old is more difficult than a teenager, but we all know that's not true," she said. "The needs of the child just change and it's the same when you have an adult child who cannot take care of themselves.

"For those children with good cognitive skills, there is a great awareness about their own disability and a sense of grief about what they cannot do as they get older," she said. "It creates a very difficult dynamic and a kind of complication, and so it's not necessarily simpler because the child is older."

Hard for Parents to Imagine Kids Harming Them

In February of this year, an 18-year-old boy with autism beat his mother to death in their Kent, Ohio, home.

Police said that Gertrude Steuernagel, 60, who, as a university professor, had written about the struggles she faced caring for her son, was found severely beaten on the kitchen floor and ultimately died from brain trauma.

Lori Warner, a licensed psychologist and director of the Hands-On Parent Education program at Beaumont Hospitals in Michigan, said that a child's size, as they grow older, is another obstacle parents must overcome.

"If your 4- or 5-year-old child weights 30 or 40 pounds and is having tantrums, you can do a lot to physically restrain them," Warner said. "But an adult who is much bigger will be a lot harder to deal with."

Warner said that as children age, managing their outbursts becomes increasingly complicated. "Parents begin to find that they're physically incapable of physically handling and emotionally handling their children," she said.

Sometimes, Warner said, the hardest part for parents is recognizing that they're putting their own safety at risk by continuing to care for their children. "It's something people don't want to believe," she said.

"It goes against your gut instincts and feelings that your child would ever harm you on purpose."

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