Special Needs Care for Adult Children: Care Options

Finding the right type of caregiver for your adult child

mom with teenage daughter
Inside Special Needs Care for Adult Children...
Just as parents of children with special needs rely on caregivers and support systems when their children are young, they may also need to rely on caregivers to help meet the needs of their adult children. In fact, caring for adult children with special needs can become more difficult as they grow larger and heavier, and more complicated as they reach adolescence.

Various options exist depending on the child's level of need and the family situation. Some adults with special needs may be able to live independently, others may require increased support.

Care Options Available

  • Family members. Many adult children live at home with family members as their primary care providers. According to one web source, 76% of individuals with developmental disabilities live at home. In a quarter of these situations, the average age of the adult child was 38; caregivers were age 60 or older.
  • Home health aides or personal care attendants. Depending on the child's level of need, these providers come into the home to help family members in a variety of ways. In addition to providing respite to family members and being a companion to the adult child, home aides assist with duties requiring more physical strength or perform specific assignments such as bathing and dressing.
  • Community-based homes and supported living arrangements. Adults living in group homes enjoy some independence, but receive support as necessary depending on their needs. Caregivers living or working at these homes provide a range of services, from supervision to help with medication to advice on getting to work and dressing appropriately.
  • Independent living arrangements. Depending on their situation, some adults may be able to live independently with some form of additional support. For example, they may need someone to help them for a few hours a day with activities of daily living, transportation, meals, etc.
  • Day programs. Once they are no longer attending school, adults can benefit from day programs appropriate for their level of ability. Providing structure to the day through a variety of educational services, these programs help adults work on life skills while offering social opportunities.
  • Long-term care facilities. Some adult children with special needs require extensive support around the clock.  In cases such as this, parents may feel their child's needs are best served in a long-term, live-in, care facility.
  • Assistive technology. There's a wealth of assistive technology, from software to sports gear, which may help your adult child be more independent. Your child's physician can help steer you in the right direction. 

Needs Change Over Time

One of the main challenges parents of adult children with special needs face is that of their own age and health. It's not uncommon for parents to care for their adult children well into their 70's, even into their 80's. The caregiving picture may change dramatically with a parent's illness. 

As parents age, they may be the ones in need of senior care, while their adult child with special needs continues to require the support of caregivers.  Planning ahead and evaluating caregiving options prior to a crisis can alleviate some of the stress that is inevitable when the balance of care shifts within a family.

Deborah Elbaum, M.D. lives in Massachusetts and has three children.

Next: Cost of Care »
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Comments (9)
gabriela rodriguez
I HAVE A special needs son and I m suffering a lot thinking what's gonna happen with him if I passed away. That's my concern.I love him a lot he is my baby. And I don't want that he suffer. Please need help to find a good special needs housing in los angeles ca or Pasadena, Arcadia ca.
Posted: January 30, 2014 at 12:03 AM
becky
I have a 20 year old daughter who is very high functioning. My problem is she has started dating. He is physically abusive to her and is at this point in jail. She is in charge of her own finances. He has been unemployed the year that she has been seeing him. He has just lived off of her. I listen daily to how much she loves him even though he has put her in the hospital before. I am at a loss since she is over 18. I have no clue what to do. I just become more depressed every day.
Posted: September 15, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Mary
I have a 26yr old daughter who is basically non verbal. After many yrs of taking antidepressants & antipsychotic meds. (None of them seemed to help) we may have found out the true cause of her tantrums & difficult behaviors. On April 12th she started a new med. on the 16th she fell down a flight of 18 concrete steps, head first, on her back & then had a seizure. I believe the seizure was a side effect of the new med. At the hospital the drs did a CT scan & found the injury from the fall was a single fractured rib, however they also told me she had an intestinal malrotation. Apparently she would have been born with the rotation & it would cause every symptom we complained to her drs about for yrs! She had surgery to correct it last week but so far mentally she seems so much worse. I don't know what to do..
Posted: June 20, 2013 at 12:17 AM
Lehigh Valley, PA Kathy
I have a 23 year old daughter with autism. Shortly after her 16th birthday my husband died- very suddenly. Prior to his death my daughter was not eligible for SSDI because he made too much money. After his death my daughter received SSI Survivors Benefits. Now she makes too much money to qualify for any programs. I would love to send her to a day program but can not afford $2000.00 a month (more than her survivor's benefits). I was recently contacted regarding a waiver for her. Since she has been denied 4 times based on "income" I contacted her caseworker who informed me yes- she would be denied. I was contacted again and informed the waiver was not based on income but on need and she would most probably qualify since she does not talk, read, write and needs me to do everything for her. She was evaluated on Tuesday and I was told she most definitely qualified. Wednesday morning I received a call saying she did not qualify because her income was too high. I told her caseworker that if something was not done SOON I would be having a nervous breakdown! I love my daughter but we both need a break. She needs to socialize and so do I. Since I am also her legal guardian I have all expenses at my fingertips and can prove her income is far less than her expense each month. This Wednesday we will be proving this. If all goes well she will be receiving the waiver funds around July 1. I will never give up and neither should you! Our children deserve to live their lives to the fullest and to be happy. If one group says no ask another, and another, and another. Eventually someone will say yes.
Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:37 AM
Photo of Linda P.
Linda P.
Where do you each live, I live in West Lawn,Pa. not sure if were are all in the same area?
Brandy, do you have a supports caseworker ?
My son is 32 total care & severe profound M.R.
He does have a "Waver Grant" that pays for services such as Dayprogram & help in our home.
I would be intestested in hearing more from each of you if you'd like to also
Thank you
Linda
Posted: April 11, 2013 at 12:20 AM
brandy
hey my name is brandy my brother is autism and adhd he also bio pole he is 24 years old my mother pass away in 2008 since then he has been live with our father my dad is sick now and they are both living with me i do not know what to do i have 3 little boys and he can not take it he say he want to hurt them and he can be very hard to deal with at time there is nothing for him to do where i live i have not found in program or nothing yet someone please help me i just do not know what to do my kids can even be by him because he may hurt them dose any one know what i sould do i love my brother he going thoung a lot right now and i just want to help him but my kids come first
Posted: March 29, 2013 at 2:40 PM
Patty
Patty
I am a mother of two wonderful young men. My older son is 28 yrs. old. He has special needs and lives at home. Although he
is physically higher functioning (has epilepsy, mild CP) his developmental delay is significant and isolates us both tremendously.
My heart breaks for him every day to see him so lonely -- for his peers. That seems to be the hardest part. He does not fit in anywhere. He has neurological impairment, but no label such as Autism or Down Syndrome etc.

Even at a young age, about 4-5yrs, my son has been painfully aware of his learning disability. Partly due to speech impairment which often brought on cruel taunts by children who did not understand. He would come to me in tears saying "they all make fun of me, I wish I don't have learning disability". It took a lot for me to not cry too and to give that pep talk we now know would been one of thousands. Did any of us know back then that it actually gets harder for these precious souls? So unfair...
Posted: December 02, 2012 at 9:44 AM
elizabeth
hello patricia i`m reading what you have written and i understand totally what you`re going through. i too have a child who i choose to say is special needs. she`s 22 but functioning mentally of a 7 year old. i try to give her the fullest life that i can but i myself feel so isolated and filled with anxiety. i`m so afraid to put her in a day program because of so many mean people. i moved from one state to another and here i have little to no support so it`s lonely for me, with my husband being in the middle east. i would love to bounce ideas and opinions off of eachother sometimes. i do hope that you start to feel less lonely really soon. you and your son will be in my prayers:)
Posted: June 06, 2012 at 6:41 PM
patricia donohue
i have a 32 year son, who is retarded. he is a home with three other gentlemen. my problem is i need support from other parents that are dealing with the pain and hurt of having a adult child with special needs. the loniless some times become unbearable. thanku, patricia.
Posted: April 02, 2012 at 10:29 AM
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