Month: March 2016

Young Adults With Special Needs Living With Roommates

images (19)When it comes time for a young adult with special needs (YASN) to leave the nest, one of the most reasonable options for many is to move into a place with one or more other people who can help them balance the responsibilities and freedoms of independence with their unique situations. The first question is, do you want to live with someone who has special needs akin to yours? Or would it be better to live with a friend? Either way, there are a few options for a mostly-independent life with one or more roommates.

Types of Residence with Roommates

• Private Residence: One of the best options when it’s affordable is for 2-3 families that all have young adults with special needs to put their funds together and purchase a single-family residence, and move all of them in together. (Obviously, this works best if the three are acquaintances or friends beforehand.) The families can guide their YASNs from afar, helping them learn to responsibly deal with bills, holding down a job, and keeping a house.

• Apartment Community: In most larger towns across the country, there are community organizations that maintain one or more apartments for YASNs. Alternatively, several families that have YASNs can come together and organize to rent several apartments in the same complex (with the landlord’s involvement and approval, of course). This is a great option for parents who don’t mind driving over to visit a few times a week and can help organize activities. This is great for families that have a dependable income but don’t have a lot of savings.

• Dedicated Community: Some independent-living facilities have special areas for or are fully devoted to YASNs, supporting between a dozen and a hundred ‘cottages’ of 2-4 roommates who live together, sharing chores and participating in activities organized by the community. Some such facilities accept SSI payments, making them ideal for YASNs that are ‘officially’ disabled. Such communities often offer a stable routine, a good mix of activities, and (importantly!) safe transportation to shopping and workplaces.

Which is Best for Me?

If you’re fairly certain that you want to live with at least one other person, but you don’t know which of your options is appropriate for your particular situation, here’s a short set of questions to answer.

• How much structure do you need to feel comfortable getting through your day? If your answer is “quite a bit, thank you,” you should consider the dedicated community — both informal apartment communities and private residences can start strong, but are often organized by one or two people and can fall apart unexpectedly if something goes wrong.

• How much do you value privacy? If the answer is “quite a bit, thank you,” you should consider the apartment community — it’s the only option that gives you a space that is actually your own while keeping ‘roommates’ literally a door or two down the way.

• How well can you navigate a few days entirely without assistance? If the answer is “quite well, thank you,” the private residence (provided you have a set of families that can afford it and are interested) is the option that most strongly supports independence and learning skills that further that independence.


Young Adults With Special Needs in Group Living Situations

images (18)A few decades ago, it was expected that young adults with special needs (YASNs) would move directly from their parents care into a group home that would care for their special needs. While that option is much less normal today, it is still very much an option. There are few different kinds of group living that are appropriate for YASNs just leaving the nest.

Types of Group Living for Young Adults with Special Needs

• Boarding Home / ‘Supervised Living’: A large home owned by an agency that houses 5-20 people. The folks living there get regular but infrequent (often weekly) visits from a supervisor, and have on-call staff handy for urgent issues during the day and early evening, but are on their own overnight. Most such homes offer room and board for a flat fee, though there are many exceptions.

• Intermediate Care / ‘Group Homes’: Similar to a boarding home, but with 24-hour non-medical support available for the residents. Most often geared toward people with minor intellectual or developmental disabilities, and most often a single home will have aides trained to deal with a particular spectrum of special needs.

• Assisted Living Facilities: A facility that offers 24-hour medical support for the residents, including those who need assistance with basic Activities of Daily Life (ADLs) such as dressing or feeding themselves. A small (<10 bed) Assisted Living Facility is known as a ‘Family Care’ facility in many states.

Questions to Ask About a Group Home

While the categories of group living are fairly clearly divided by level of need, they don’t really tell you much about what day-to-day life is like in each kind of facility. That’s because there’s not really a lot of consistency between facilities; some offer just the bare minimum of state- and Federally- mandated support, and others are significantly more all-encompassing. So before you choose a particular home, be sure you know:

• What is the sense of community like between residents?
• How often does the facility schedule special events, community activities, and so on?
• What unique supports does the facility offer? (For example, do they have transportation available for shopping trips? How about to and from work?)
• How does the facility develop plans for residents with behavior issues? How involved are the residents in this planning process?
• How would you describe the relationship between the management and the local police, emergency responders, and neighbors? (NIMBYism is a big problem with group homes!)
• What can you do to incorporate as much of my old family routine into my new schedule as possible?

The Danger of Group Living: Abuse Is More Common

The one often-unexpected danger of group-living facilities is that, like nursing homes and similar places, there are more opportunities for abuse in group situations. While such situations are less common for young adults than with the elderly, they are particularly common when your special needs include an intellectual or emotional disability. If you’re considering a group home, make certain you talk about personal safety and how to appropriately respond to potential abusers with your family and caretakers.


Young Adults With Special Needs Living Alone

download (53)Americans put a lot of cultural emphasis on independence, and as such, it is perfectly normal for a young adult who is at a certain age to expect to stop living with their parents and start their own life. Young adults with special needs (YASNs) that are relatively minor or are well under control may expect to live alone — and there’s no good reason they shouldn’t. But there are some things that need to be considered along the way.

Types of Solo Residence

Barring a family that owns a second home, there are basically only two options for a YASN living alone for the first time:

• A Rental will give you the most independence. Several apartments offer supportive groups by and for parents and other YASNs who can help you keep everything moving forward as you adapt to life on your own. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects you from discrimination in the application process, and most apartment complexes will be happy to make a few accommodations for you such as ramps or handles in the bathrooms. Agencies that offer services to YASNs are called Supported Living agencies in most states, and can craft an individual support plan to provide you with just what you need to make the transition to independent living.

• An Addition — either a second building on the property or a separate suite in the same home — can give you a needed midway point between “true” independence and the benefits of living with family. While living can be significantly easier in an addition, there are a number of unique obstacles that must be overcome, including city, state, and Federal codes, zoning laws, and more.

Renting As a YASN: Your Rights

Landlords are obligated by law to qualify you for a rental, be it apartment or single-family residence, based only on your financial stability and your history as a tenant. Even if your special needs are visibly obvious — for example, you operate in a wheelchair — the landlord must legally show you any unit you inquire into, even if he believes that you wouldn’t be happy on the third floor. Even asking you about the details of your special needs is illegal. Similarly, if you have a mental or emotional condition that may be off-putting to some, the landlord cannot use that as a factor in his decision unless he can point to a specific, known instance where your condition made you a danger to yourself, others, or property.

You are also legally allowed to ask the landlord to make reasonable accommodations for you at his own expense. These can include items like spacious, close-up parking spaces, ‘lever’-style rather than typical doorknobs, hand-holds in the bathroom, and so on. What you cannot demand is any modification that would disrupt the landlord’s ability to run his business, or that would be ruinously expensive — so no insisting that an elevator be installed in a building that currently only has stairs.

Obviously, when you’re dealing with an addition rather than a rental, the issues are highly geography-dependent, and your family will have to do its own research.


Housing for Young Adults With Special Needs: Skills Assessment

download (51)For a young adult with special needs (YASN), making the first big move out of the home takes on several dimensions unimaginable to a typical teenager. Whatever your housing arrangement, it must include support for the specific special needs that you bring with you, and it should also take your family’s circumstances into account as well. The major options include living alone, living in a community of similar neighbors, or living in a group home. Which one is best for you will depend on your masters of certain life skills as well as your financial situation and your personal comfort level.

Note that these assessments don’t distinguish between mental, physical, and emotional special needs — the only question is “can consistently you handle these tasks without assistance, even under potentially stressful circumstances?

Basic ADLs

The first ‘rank’ of skills to assess is how easily you can get through the least-challenging day without help. In order to accomplish that goal, you need to be able to take care of what the government calls “ADLs” — Activities of Daily Living:

• Mobility and Transference (i.e. from wheelchair to bed),
• Drinking and Eating
• Dressing and Undressing
• Bathing and Hygiene
• Toileting and Continence

If you can handle all of these yourself, you have the fundamental skills necessary to navigate a day without continuous assistance. If you need assistance with one or more of these skills, you’re going to have to live in a group environment that offers around-the-clock assistance. (Not that you have to lack one or more of these skills to take advantage of a group home; if you simply prefer that kind of environment or have other reasons to need one, you certainly can choose it.) ”

Homekeeping Skills

Mastering the ADLs will get you through a day — but not a month. Living without parental supervision means not just surviving, but having the skills you need to manage a home. These include (but are not limited to):

• Grocery shopping
• Doing laundry
• Housecleaning
• Preparing meals

If you can handle these skills yourself, you have the skills necessary to survive in an environment where the only assistance you receive is with long-term, abstract tasks. This means you’re a good match for an assisted-living facility where you live mostly alone but for a daily visit from a skilled aide, or for a group home that offers on-call assistance for emergencies and handles long-term matters such as scheduling activities.

Self-Management Skills

Finally, there’s the last rank of cognitive skills necessary for true independence: the aforementioned long-term, abstract skills that society expects of young adults living alone. These include (but are not limited to):

• Budgeting
• Scheduling your own time
• Paying bills
• Handling unexpected visitors, phone calls, or other interruptions

If you can handle these skills without help, you’re prepared to live alone except for occasional visits and emergency support. Of course, you can certainly choose any other option as well; you have access to essentially the full range of housing options.

What exactly are those housing options? We’ll go over the most common options in the next few articles.