Signs Your Adult Child with Special Needs Is Ready to Live Independently


By Christy Clawson,


“I want to live in a house of my own.”  


For the parent of an adult child with special needs, those are some of the most wonderful and most terrifying words you can hear.


Most parents become empty nesters at some point, but if you have a child with special needs, that’s far from a certainty. Many young people with disabilities continue to live at home long after they reach legal adulthood. For those who are able to move out on their own, it can be nervewracking for parents to find the right environment and make sure they have the skills they need and enough support to succeed.

Signs Your Child Is Ready

How do you know if your son or daughter is ready for independent living? In many ways, it’s like determining whether a neurotypical child is ready to live alone. Some signs your child may be ready include:

  • Self-care skills: In addition to things like bathing, grooming, and dressing, your child should know how to do things like laundry, making the bed, and taking medications as directed.

  • Having a job (part-time or full-time): Getting a job is an important first step toward independence. Holding down employment for an extended period of time is one clue that your son or daughter may be ready to live on their own. Your child might not earn enough to pay all of their own bills, but having meaningful employment develops their self-esteem, communication skills, and responsibility.

  • Being able to handle money: Knowing how to handle money is another important skill for your child to have before moving out. You can set up auto pay for important bills, but your child should be able to make change. It’s a good idea for them to have their own bank account and know how to budget their money until they get paid again.

  • Making simple meals: It is important that your child knows how to do some basic cooking before they move out of your home. Consider going on grocery trips together and helping them think of recipes that they can prepare on their own well before they move out.

  • Knowing how to drive or use public transportation: Being able to get around your city or town is important for a young adult living independently. Help your son or daughter get their driver’s license if possible. If not, knowing how to use public transportation, paratransit, taxis, or ride-share services is another option.

  • Personal safety and boundaries: People with disabilities are more vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment, so it’s important for your child to understand consent and what is and is not appropriate behavior. You should talk with your child about sex and what to do if someone makes them feel uncomfortable. It is also important for your child to understand and respect the boundaries of others.

Ways to support your child

Preparing your child for independence should begin long before they turn 18. Give your child chores as soon as he or she is ready and take advantage of life skills training through your school system. When the time comes, there are a variety of ways you can support your child even after you are no longer living under the same roof. There are group homes, transitional programs, and other supported living arrangements that provide structure and supervision. Depending on your child’s needs, there are also other ways to help.

  • Get a roommate: There are many benefits to having a roommate. In addition to making the rent of an apartment more affordable, a roommate can provide companionship and help share responsibilities like doing dishes, paying bills, and cooking meals. Your son or daughter can live with one or more other young adults with special needs, or you can find someone without any disability to provide support (perhaps in exchange for slightly discounted rent).

  • Have weekly dinners together: Having weekly dinners together gives you time to catch up with your child and see for yourself how they’re doing. You can get together at your home, their home, or take turns. And if you make extra portions, you can leave them with homemade leftovers.

  • Set up automated bill pay: Remembering to pay bills on time can be a challenge for most. Signing your child up for automatic bill pay is a good idea. There’s little hassle, and it makes sure the bills are always paid on time, without adding any stress to your child’s day.

  • Find a place in close geographic proximity: Help your child apartment hunt for places that are within a close proximity to you. It will allow you to see each other on a regular basis, and being close to each other will allow you to help them set up their apartment to their liking.

  • Understand renters' rights: Make sure your son or daughter understands their rights as a renter. It is important that they also know what their lease agreement states. Keep an extra copy of both at your home just in case.

  • Set up identity theft protection: Setting up identity theft protection for your children assures that they’ll be safe if someone tries to take their identity. You can freeze their credit, or monitor it for any changes.

  • Install smoke detectors: Make sure your child has smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in their home. Batteries should be changed regularly and the system should be tested periodically. You should also keep a fire extinguisher near the kitchen and a first aid kit in the bathroom. Make sure your child knows how to use it.

  • Consider adding video security: Adding video security cameras to your child’s apartment is a great idea in case of a break-in. The added security will give peace of mind to you and your child.

Options for greater independence at home

For adult children with special needs, moving out is not always an option. An estimated 70 percent continue to live with their parents. However, there are a number of ways to give them more independence while living under the same roof. Here are a few:

  • Renovate your home to create a self-contained apartment, like a mother-in-law suite.

  • If your child isn’t able to find competitive employment, help him or her find meaningful volunteer work that will help to develop valuable skills.

  • If it’s practical, think about charging nominal room and board and having them pitch in financially. If your child isn’t earning any income, encourage them to take on more responsibilities around the home.

  • Encourage your child to spend less time at home and more time out with friends.

  • Try to help your child problem-solve on their own. Listen to the problem and offer ideas if asked, but remind them that you trust their judgment.

A fulfilling life

Whether your child is neurotypical or has special needs, it’s bittersweet when they grow up and leave home. But knowing they have the skills they need to manage without you makes it a bit easier, and taking steps to support them can give both of you peace of mind. With a lot of patience, preparation, and communication, many young adults with special needs can have fulfilling jobs, loving relationships, and independent lives. It’s never to early to start thinking about the future.