Safe and Supportive Housing for Adults with Special Needs

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused

When a young person with autism or another developmental and/or intellectual disability turns 22, he or she “graduates” into the world of adult services. This can be a challenging time for both the student and his or her family. It is a time when the focus shifts from academic and instructional training to functional skill development—skills that will increase that person’s level of independence so that he or she will be able to enjoy the highest quality of life possible.

During this time of transition and in the years leading up to it, one important consideration is housing, especially for those individuals who are less independent. It is important to assess the needs of each person to determine the living environment that will best suit him or her. While some will continue to live at home, supported by family members, others will move out of the family’s home, but continue to require support. There is a wide array of residential options designed to meet each person’s unique needs.

Supported living situations range from individuals living on their own and receiving assistance as needed, to individuals residing in group homes and receiving round-the-clock care. For the former, a staff person may periodically visit the home to assist with banking, grocery shopping, and laundry. For the latter, staffing is provided 24 hours a day, and the individual receives higher levels of support, structure, and supervision.

Group homes are typically single-family houses where two to five individuals with special needs live together. In the group home – just as in a typical family – each person has his or her own bedroom, and shares the bathrooms, kitchen, and dining and living rooms. One or more staff work in the home to assist residents with household and hygiene chores such as cooking, laundry, showering, and shaving. Staff members also help residents participate in community activities, manage money, and make purchases.

Through their group living experiences, residents learn what is necessary to develop meaningful relationships with others. And, with the help of caring, compassionate support staff, these individuals will continue to work on behavior management, effective communication, and social skills, just as they did in the schools they attended.

In Massachusetts, there are a number of systems in place to monitor how well individuals are doing in their residential placements. The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) assigns a Service Coordinator to each adult who receives services through that agency. The Service Coordinator is responsible for ensuring that the adult receives effective and appropriate supports. Adults in one home usually share the same Service Coordinator. In addition to facilitating support services, the Service Coordinator is responsible for periodically visiting the group home to make sure that the residents are happy, healthy, and safe.

Along with the general monitoring conducted by the Service Coordinator, the Quality Enhancement Survey Tool (QUEST) and Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) help ensure that individuals in group homes receive high-quality services.

QUEST and CARF employ surveyors who periodically visit a home to evaluate how well services are being provided. The surveyors measure the quality of services in the areas of human rights and dignity, individual control, community integration, relationships, personal wellbeing, and personal growth and accomplishment. They also assess the provider’s policies and procedures, as well as how well the staff members are supported in providing these services.

Helping a young man or woman with special needs transition from being a student into being a more independent young adult is an important responsibility for families and service providers. DDS Service Coordinators and monitoring systems such as QUEST and CARF share this responsibility by ensuring that residential programs provide safe and healthy environments in which adults with special needs can live satisfying, productive, and happy lives.

by Teka J. Harris, M.A., BCBA

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601  or visit