The transition from child to teenager to adult is one that is difficult, rocky, and complex for everyone. For those with special needs, these transitions – especially into adulthood – can be especially complicated. Between the ages of 16 and 24, people experience many changes – including work and school, family and social relationships, emotional and cognitive development, and physical changes. This is a lot for anyone to conquer, but for young adults with special needs or disabilities – whether intellectual or developmental – these challenges are even more difficult. Not only do young adults with disabilities often face more challenges after their school years regarding work and career choices, higher education, and independence, but they also must navigate relationships, discrimination, and other difficulties in ways that others do not.
In addition to these already numerous and daunting challenges awaiting young adults with disabilities, more issues arise when a person turns 21 and ages out of the school system, often losing much of the support, therapies, and assistance they received in school. Many support services such as pediatric therapies and specialized education programs end at adulthood, often leaving young adults with disabilities in a difficult spot. This population experiences a loss of support at the same time as they are navigating new challenges, making this a difficult time for many. A few of the most prevalent and difficult challenges for this population tend to be employment, community integration, and family/caregiver issues.
For adults with special needs and intellectual or developmental disabilities, finding employment can be challenging. The majority of adults with these types of disabilities are not employed, due largely to a lack of employment services and job support or the inability to get the training they need for the job. Even among those who are employed, many are not working regular jobs in the community or receiving competitive wages — often being paid under minimum wage. The difficulties surrounding higher education for young adults with disabilities also plays a part in this. If obtaining higher education is desired, however, there are many colleges and universities which offer programs for those with special needs as well as scholarships and grants for disabled students.
For young adults with special needs who are overwhelmed by the idea of trying to find a job or are unsure about where to start, check out some of these resources and ideas.
As a young adult ages out of school and starts to face the real world, it can suddenly become more difficult to maintain a social life and be a part of a community, as the social interaction that is built in to public school is no longer a part of their life. For young adults with special needs and disabilities this can be even more of a struggle as fewer go on to college or move out on their own. It is important for everyone to be a part of a community and to have a group of peers who they can relate to. Finding a place to plug in, such as an activity or fitness program for adults with special needs and disabilities, or even a Special Olympics team, can be very beneficial for a young adult’s mental and physical health. Volunteering, working, attending classes or other community events are all good ways to find community.
The transition into adulthood for people with special needs can be difficult not only on the young adult but on their entire family. It’s a time full of change and important decisions, coinciding with losing the support they have received from the school up until now. Many young adults with disabilities will continue to live at home after becoming an adult, which can be convenient so that they continue to receive care from their parents but can also cause stress and strain on relationships. Caregiving, even when done from a place of love, can take a toll on a person. To relieve this burden and strain, hiring a professional caregiver or looking into independent or assisted living situations can be beneficial for both parties’ mental health as well as the relationship between parents and children.