Moving out of your parent’s home and getting your own place is a rite of passage for many young adults. For individuals living with developmental disabilities, it’s a passage that can often get delayed and come with a need for unique accommodations.
However, even though there might be a need for unique accommodations, it’s entirely possible for someone with developmental disabilities to live independently. If you’re exploring independent living for yourself or a person with developmental disabilities, keep reading to find out more information.
How Might a Developmental Disability Affect a Person’s Everyday Life?
A person can be affected by a developmental disability in a variety of ways. It all depends on the individual person and what developmental disability they have.
For example, while some individuals with cerebral palsy have the ability to walk, others might use a wheelchair to move about.
That being said, there are some basic categories to consider.
Around 3.6 percent of adults with a disability have trouble with bathing or dressing. Various, daily-living activities a person could need assistance with include toileting, dressing, bathing, or feeding themselves.
This could be anywhere from minimal assistance, such as prompts or reminders, to needing someone to do the task for them.
For individuals with developmental disabilities, the basic ability to move around their homes could be an issue.
Around 13.7 percent of adults with a disability have mobility issues. Whether difficulty climbing stairs or walking, this presents a unique challenge for individuals with disabilities who need to navigate spaces that weren’t necessarily built to accommodate a wheelchair or other mobility device.
Some individuals with developmental disabilities could have issues with communication including, but not limited to:
- Understanding speech
Around 5.9 percent of adults with a disability have difficulty hearing or are deaf. The inability to communicate with the world around you could mean you need assistance, whether it be from assistive technology or another person.
Social situations can be difficult for many people. However, for people with developmental disabilities, there is an extra degree of difficulty that could be present.
In addition to struggles with communicating, the person may have a difficult time understanding social situations. The person could struggle to understand nonverbal communication and various social cues.
For example, most people recognize that if another person has headphones on and their head buried in a book or phone, they don’t want to be bothered. A person who struggles to read these cues might still try to interact with the person in headphones.
That’s just a small example; however, for individuals who do struggle with social situations, it can impact many different areas of life, including school, work, and social settings. Making friends and building a support system may also be difficult.
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) calls for reasonable accommodations and makes it illegal to discriminate against an individual because of a disability, finding a job can still be difficult for an individual with a disability. Some businesses are reluctant to hire individuals with disabilities for various reasons.
Regardless of the reason, getting a job might be difficult for individuals with disabilities. If you’re unable to find employment, you will run into the problem of not having the ability to financially support yourself.
In addition, when people with a disability do find employment, they need to maintain that employment.
The next problem with finances and independent living is budgeting. Does the person have the ability to budget and pay their bills? Or, will they spend their whole paycheck on comic books and have nothing to live on until their next payday?
Do you set an alarm at night? When your alarm goes off, do you get out of bed and know what you need to do and how? For some individuals with developmental disabilities, the ability to move from task to task could be difficult.
They might know that they need to go to work but struggle with knowing what steps to take to get there. The ability to self-direct is essential when it comes to getting through the day.
Handling life’s stressors is difficult for everyone, but individuals with developmental disabilities could have a difficult time coping with the emotions that come along with life’s stressors. In addition, individuals with developmental disabilities could be dealing with stressors that others might not find as such.
This can include the ability to be understood, communicate, physically perform tasks, and support yourself both physically and financially. This could lead to feelings of anger, resentment, depression, hopelessness, guilt, embarrassment, and frustration.
Beyond coping, individuals with developmental disabilities may struggle to let other people know what they need, want, or feel.
However, coping doesn’t just affect the person with the disability. Family members might have a difficult time coping as well. Emotional support is important for both individuals and family members to have.
What Are Some Challenges a Person With Disabilities Might Face?
When it comes to independent living, there are a variety of challenges a person with a disability could face. Sometimes it can feel like there are more barriers to independent living than roads, but the good news is there are ways to overcome these barriers.
One study looked at barriers to independent living for seniors and individuals with disabilities. They found that many of the barriers were similar; however, there were differences in how high the barrier ranked as a concern.
The top three barriers for individuals with disabilities included:
- Personal safety
- Assistance with household skills
- Assistance with medication
But, these were not the only barriers identified. It’s important to note barriers identified because as those barriers get identified, you can begin to plan for solutions.
What happens if you’re at home and you fall? Do you have the ability to get back up by yourself? Or call for help?
What about locking your windows or doors? Or not inviting strangers over? There are little things that need to get done each day to ensure personal safety when living independently.
Personal safety doesn’t just come down to locking doors or fall risks. It is the most common independent living barrier for individuals with disabilities. In fact, 94.7 percent of respondents identified personal safety as a barrier that’s relevant to them for independent living.
Assistance With Household Skills
Washing dishes, doing laundry, making the bed, cleaning, and cooking are just some of the household skills you need the ability to perform when you live independently. For some, completing these skills could be difficult, either because of a physical disability or not having the ability to self-direct.
Assistance with household skills was another barrier to independent living that was identified by numerous individuals. Like personal safety, 94.7 percent of individuals with disabilities indicated it as a barrier.
Assistance With Medications
When do you take your medication? How much do you take? How do you take it?
Individuals with developmental disabilities could have intensive medical needs. However, even if it’s just a matter of taking a few pills a day, it could present an issue.
When living independently, an individual will need to have the ability to understand when and how to take their medication. The need for assistance with medications was identified as a barrier to independent living by 89.5 percent of individuals with disabilities.
Assistance With Daily Living Skills
Some individuals with developmental disabilities need extra assistance throughout the day. This can include help with dressing, bathing, and more.
If you’re unable to perform these tasks for yourself, it can make independent living challenging. Around 76.3 percent of individuals with disabilities indicate that the need for assistance with daily living skills was a barrier to independent living.
Do you remember to turn the stove off when you’re done cooking? Or do you remember to check and replace your fire alarm batteries?
What do you do if your fire alarm goes off? Or worse, what do you do if there is a fire? If there is a fire, can you get down the stairs independently without an elevator?
There are many fire hazards that can easily happen in a home. Understanding not only how to avoid those hazards, but what to do if there is a fire is essential.
Around 86.8 percent of individuals with disabilities indicated that fire safety was a barrier to independent living for them.
Developmental disabilities in combination with a mental health diagnosis present a unique challenge. For individuals with both, this gets referred to as a dual diagnosis.
When you look at challenging behaviors in an individual with a dual diagnosis, it can be difficult to identify whether the behavior stems from a mental health condition or medical problem. Even when the source of the behavior gets identified, there is a need for the individual to have adequate coping skills.
Around 68.4 percent of individuals with disabilities identified that a dual diagnosis was a barrier to independent living.
Loneliness can be a problem even if you live in a house that’s full of people. However, when you live independently, there’s a need to get out into the community and form relationships. In addition, you need the ability to reach out and allow people into your life.
For individuals with developmental disabilities, this can be difficult, especially if they struggle with social situations. Making and keeping friends and building a support system can be a challenge. However, when you live with family, or even in a group home, you have built-in supports and people to help you feel less lonely.
Feeling lonely can also exacerbate mental health concerns for those with a dual diagnosis. Around 72.9 percent of individuals with disabilities identified loneliness as a barrier to independent living.
Running or Wandering Away
If you leave your home, do you remember how to get back? Do you remember your address or where you live?
When living independently, it might take some time before someone notices. In the meantime, what kind of risks has the person wandered into?
While wandering or running away wasn’t near the top of the list for barriers, it was still identified as a potential barrier for 55.3 percent of individuals.
Severe Weather Safety
What do you do when there’s a tornado? Or a flash flood warning? If you live in an area that’s prone to earthquakes or hurricanes, do you know how to respond in those situations?
In addition, can you respond without panicking? Knowing what to do in severe weather to stay safe can be an issue for some.
Severe weather safety was identified as a potential barrier to independent living by 67.6 percent of individuals.
What kind of medical conditions does the person with a disability have? These conditions can factor into many of the other barriers, such as medications.
The ability to manage medical conditions and get the care you need is just another factor in independent living. For some people with developmental disabilities, medical conditions can be more intensive and require a lot of management.
Needing assistance with those medical conditions can present a challenge to independent living. Around 52.6 percent of individuals identified medical conditions as a potential barrier.
For individuals who have mobility difficulties, there is a whole other set of challenges to consider. Do you need a first-floor apartment or an apartment with an elevator?
What happens if the elevator stops working? Does the apartment have the space required for a wheelchair to move around? Is the bathroom built for accessibility?
If you do utilize a wheelchair, can you get yourself out of bed in the morning and into your wheelchair? Mobility issues have the potential to be a barrier to independent living and can make finding a place to live more difficult.
Around 47.4 percent of individuals identified mobility issues as a barrier to independent living.
Memory Loss or Disorientation
If a person has problems remembering or gets disoriented easily, it can cause a challenge when living independently. While this was identified as a potential barrier for individuals with disabilities, it was one of the barriers that affected fewer people.
Around 47.4 percent of individuals identified memory loss or disorientation as a barrier to independent living.
Can you get yourself to the bathroom? If you do have problems with incontinence, are you able to clean yourself up afterward?
Incontinence was the lowest on the list for individuals with disabilities. However, it was still identified as a potential barrier for 40.5 percent of respondents.
How Do You Deal With Developmental Disabilities and Independent Living?
As you consider all of the potential barriers to independent living with developmental disabilities, it might feel overwhelming. However, don’t let potential barriers discourage you!
The first step is identifying what barriers are present for you; because it’s only when you identify the barriers that you can begin to find solutions.
There are various solutions available depending on what limitations or barriers you might face. We’ll cover a few things to keep in mind as you start looking for potential resources.
Assistive technology is any device, equipment, or software that helps an individual with disabilities communicate, learn, or function better. For example, a text-to-speech reader would get considered assistive technology; however, something as simple as a grip on a fork to help you hold the fork is also assistive technology.
The goal of assistive technology is to allow someone to live more independently. Since the definition of assistive technology is so wide, there are many solutions to barriers to independent living that can get considered within this category.
For example, if a barrier to assisted living is the inability to self-direct, using alarms, reminders, and visual checklists can be a potential solution. This can be done through something as simple as a cell phone or through a specialized device that’s meant just for that task.
What if one of your barriers to independent living is struggling with loneliness and social situations? How do you build community support?
Finding communities doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, Easterseals has a community where you can make friends, learn skills, and find a job.
The Adult Training and Wellness Center has activities like:
- Daily lunch
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
- Technology lab
- Living skills training
- Health and Nutrition
- Social opportunities
Life Skills Training
The Adult Training and Wellness Center also offers living skills training. This allows you to learn the skills you need to live independently.
If you have a limitation that affects that, you can learn different ways to help you be successful in various tasks.
Living independently doesn’t mean you need to live without help. Everyone needs assistance from time to time.
Consider hiring a home aide. A home aide can come in for a few hours a day, a couple of times a week, or offer around-the-clock services.
If your barriers to independent living are the inability to perform activities of daily living independently, this can give you the extra support you need.
Tips to Help Navigate Living With Developmental Disabilities and Independent Living
It can feel like there are more barriers than opportunities when it comes to independent living for individuals with developmental disabilities. However, there are solutions available if you’re willing to do the work to find them.
Independent living comes with challenges whether you have a disability or not. It’s never too early to begin learning the skills you’ll need to be independent.
When you begin to learn those skills from an early age, you have a built-in support system from your parents. If you fail, and you will because everybody does, they will be there to help you get back up again and continue trying.
If you can build the skills you need before it’s time to leave home, it will help to smooth the transition into independent living.
Identify Available Resources
The resources available in your community are there for you to use. Don’t be afraid to use them.
If you have the opportunity, working with a case manager can help you build a toolkit of resources. That way, if you run into challenges as you transition into independent living you know what tools are available.
This can also help to address some of the unique stressors that are a part of independent living because you’ll have a plan already in place when you need it.
Independent living is never something you should dive into headfirst. Make plans for every possible scenario you can think of. Having a plan in the moment will help you know what steps to take if something happens.
Just like identifying available resources can help you reduce potential stressors, so can having a plan. You’ll know that if a fire occurs, you know what to do. Or if some other issues comes up, you have a plan in place to know what to do in that situation.
It’s impossible to plan for every scenario, but that’s where the next step comes into play.
Build a Support System
Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on and a support to lean on in difficult times. While you can’t plan for every possibility, you can build a support system.
These are the people you can turn to when you need help. Your support system can include:
- Family members
- Service providers
It’s up to you to decide who is a part of your support system. When you’re in times of need, you’ll have the opportunity to reach out to the people you’ve identified and get the support you need to get through.
Decide What You Need
Before you begin exploring various independent living options, take the time to identify potential barriers. Decide what you need as you transition into independent living. You know yourself the best, and you will best be able to identify your needs and wants when it comes to independent living.
As you identify the various barriers you could face, see what different living options offer as a solution. Talk to the people in your life about your concerns; it’s possible they can help you see things from a different perspective or offer up potential solutions.
Do you know how to cook? Or how to budget? Or how to do your own grocery shopping?What about laundry?
Some young adults have never been taught the basic skills they need when becoming independent.
While starting early is beneficial, it’s never too late to get started. Take the time to learn the skills you need to become independent.
You can learn from family members, friends, or even by taking classes.
Identify Financial Solutions
One of the biggest things you will need to address is how to pay for independent living. There are many solutions available; you simply need to identify what your solution will be.
This can include social security, public assistance, and employment. It’s important to identify where your money will be coming from and how much you’ll be receiving a month before you begin your journey.
This will help you create a budget for independent living. If you need to make adjustments to that budget when you transition, you can; however, before you begin transitioning into independent living, you should have a budget in place to help you get started.
Explore In-Home Waiver Services
When you’re discussing potential answers to barriers to independent living, the question of payment and cost will come up.
Arkansas Community and Employment Services (CES) Waiver program offers an alternative to institutionalization. As of October 2020, there were over 4,000 people receiving services through a CES waiver.
If you’ve been approved for a waiver, there are a range of services you can benefit from while living in the least restrictive setting possible.
Supported Living Services
Supported living services provide a direct support professional that works in your home and community. Together you can work on person-centered goals and objectives that are in your service plan.
The skills you work on will help you to develop and maintain the adaptive skills, daily living skills, and socialization skills you need to live and work in your community successfully. This will help meet your unique needs and sometimes the needs of your family.
In communities where public transportation is lacking or unavailable, how do you get from place to place? Waiver services can offer non-medical transportation.
This can help you access resources available to you within your community and attend other activities.
Community Transition Services
Are you working to transition from an institutionalized setting or another living arrangement that is provider-operated? If you’re getting ready to transition into a private residence, waiver services can help with this.
Specialized Medical Supplies
Do you need durable or non-durable medical equipment to address the functional limitations that you have? Part of the CES Waiver Program can cover that.
This can help you address any physical conditions and sustain your quality of life.
What kind of adaptive equipment do you need to perform daily tasks? If you can’t perform those tasks without adaptive equipment, a CES waiver can help you purchase, lease, or repair the adaptive equipment you need to be independent.
Do you want to find competitive employment? Another service offered by a CES Waiver includes supported employment services.
Whether you have had a job previously or are new to the workforce, you can get assistance through a job coach.
Sometimes unforeseen problems come up that can put an individual at risk of getting institutionalized or create a disruption in services. In those moments, supplemental support services are available.
The goal of these services is to help enable or improve the continuance of community living. Essentially, these services will help you remain where you are in the community.
Are you concerned that a barrier to independent living could be behaviors? If you have a positive behavior management plan or positive behavior support plan in place, what happens if it’s not working?
CES Waivers can provide for non-physical crisis intervention to maintain or re-establish your plan.
What About Finances and Employment?
A significant part of independent living to consider is finances and employment. If you don’t have a waiver that helps with supported employment, what can you do?
Adult Living and Training Center
Attending the Adult Living and Training Center can help you learn valuable life skills. These skills include things like budgets, resumes, and more.
This is a great place to learn the skills you need for independence. But, the Adult Living and Training Center isn’t your only option.
Are you considering life after high school? Gaining the skills needed and planning early is important.
Programs like SET for Success are specifically designed to help transition high school students from high school to life afterward. These services are for kids with IEPs or 504 plans.
Trained professionals come to your school at no cost and work with you there. There are Pre-Employment Transition Programs (Pre-ETS) offered in several central Arkansas school districts.
Participating in this program helps students discover potential interests for beyond high school and establish life goals. The Pre-ETS Program covers several areas that help give students the tools they need in order to plan their own lives.
Job exploration can help students discover potential future career paths. This gives students the opportunity to explore the future they want by opening doors of interest in various fields.
Workplace Readiness Training
You need various skills in order to be successful in the workplace. Workplace readiness training teaches students the skills employers need and want. This prepares students for success in their future workplace.
Work-Based Learning Experiences
One of the best ways to learn is through experience. The SET program offers a unique opportunity for students with disabilities to participate in work-based learning experiences and get that hands-on education.
Is your student interested in post-secondary education? Or do they need a comprehensive transition program? One of the opportunities available through SET is counseling on opportunities for enrollment in programs like that.
Children with disabilities eventually become adults with disabilities, and an important skill to have as they come into their own is the ability to self-advocate. When mom or dad aren’t there to advocate for them, will they be able to advocate for themselves?
SET can help students learn how self-advocate, which is a skill that will stay with them throughout their life.
The HIRE program offers a variety of options for individuals with disabilities. Some of the services offered include:
- One-on-one job counseling
- Placement services
HIRE builds relationships with employers in your communities to help you find competitive employment. Once you’re in a job, you will have access to a job coach who can make site visits.
A job coach can act as a liaison between your employer and you. They’ll monitor your progress and give you feedback and support. This will help to reduce challenges in the workplace and improve job retention.
Some of the jobs that individuals have been placed in include:
- Courtesy clerks
- Customer service
- Data entry
- Grocery store bagger
- Law office clerk
- Mailroom clerk
- Movie theater usher
Independent Living in College
For many young adults leaving home for college is their first taste of independent living. However, for young adults with disabilities, this can bring challenges.
While some colleges and universities do an excellent job of providing accommodations for students with disabilities, not all colleges are in tune with the needs of students with disabilities. In addition, if you attend an older university, sometimes the older buildings aren’t built to provide for students with mobility issues.
However, don’t let that deter you from higher education. Take the time to talk to the university about the services they offer for students with disabilities.
Visit the campus and explore services that can help you be independent on campus. If you’re interested in a college experience, but you’re concerned about how to navigate barriers, consider a program like the Academics, Community, Career Development, and Employment Program (ACCE).
The ACCE program gets offered by Easterseals Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. This program is specifically for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in central Arkansas.
ACCE gives you the chance to prepare for competitive employment and still get the college experience. The program is similar to the Think College initiative.
Different components of the program include:
- Job placement
- Social support
- Work exploration
The ACCE program lasts for two semesters on the UA Little Rock Campus.
Explore Living Communities
If you’re looking into going into the community for independent living, consider living communities. There are communities that get built specifically to allow individuals with developmental disabilities to live independently while still having the supports they need in place.
Butler Adult Living Center
The Butler Adult Living Center is a residential facility for adults with disabilities. They have ten beds, and they are licensed by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities and the Office of Long Term Care.
Each resident has an individual program that focuses on building their strengths. The goal of the Butler Adult Living Center is to work closely with the family and the resident to assist them in becoming more independent.
Services that get provided by the Butler Adult Living Center include:
- 24-hour supervision and residential care
- Nursing services
- Training to become more independent in activities of daily living and self-care skills
- Psychological services
- Community activities
- Dietary services
- Easterseals Center for Training and Wellness
Independent Living Apartments
Another option for independent living communities includes independent apartments for individuals with disabilities. Easterseals Arkansas has four apartment complexes in Little Rock.
- Armistead Village
- Harold Court
- Wilson Court I
- Wilson Court II
Each of the apartment complexes has a unique floor plan; however, all of the apartments are ground level.
There are many benefits to living in independent living apartment communities.
These apartments are built specifically for individuals with disabilities, thus they are accessible and safe. All apartments are one or two bedrooms. The two-bedroom apartments are designed for individuals with live-in aides.
In addition, each apartment has a living room, fully equipped kitchen, full bath, closet space, and private entrance. All of the bathrooms in the apartments are wheelchair accessible. This helps to solve barriers presented by mobility.
The Easterseals independent living apartments have on-site managers. In addition, each apartment complex has an on-site laundry facility. That means you don’t have to worry about finding a way to get yourself and your laundry to an off-site laundromat.
If you’re concerned about opportunities to engage in social activities and loneliness, independent living apartments offer a solution. There are scheduled social activities and community outings provided.
In addition, the apartment complexes provide a community room. In the community room, you will find that it is fully furnished with comfortable seating, and there’s a TV and game area. As you meet your neighbors, you will have a space where you can meet up and do activities together.
Explore Your Independent Living Options
Are you ready to start exploring independent living options? Sometimes, the barriers for individuals living with developmental disabilities can feel overwhelming.
However, by utilizing the resources available to you and preparing, you can successfully live independently. Do you have questions or want to explore any of the resources we’ve identified here?
Connect with your local Easterseals today; we would love to help you!