Young Adults With Special Needs in Group Living Situations

A few decades ago, it was expected that young adults with special needs (YASNs) would move directly from their parents care into a group home that would care for their special needs. While that option is much less normal today, it is still very much an option. There are few different kinds of group living that are appropriate for YASNs just leaving the nest.

Types of Group Living for Young Adults with Special Needs

• Boarding Home / ‘Supervised Living’: A large home owned by an agency that houses 5-20 people. The folks living there get regular but infrequent (often weekly) visits from a supervisor, and have on-call staff handy for urgent issues during the day and early evening, but are on their own overnight. Most such homes offer room and board for a flat fee, though there are many exceptions.

• Intermediate Care / ‘Group Homes’: Similar to a boarding home, but with 24-hour non-medical support available for the residents. Most often geared toward people with minor intellectual or developmental disabilities, and most often a single home will have aides trained to deal with a particular spectrum of special needs.

• Assisted Living Facilities: A facility that offers 24-hour medical support for the residents, including those who need assistance with basic Activities of Daily Life (ADLs) such as dressing or feeding themselves. A small (<10 bed) Assisted Living Facility is known as a 'Family Care' facility in many states.

Questions to Ask About a Group Home

While the categories of group living are fairly clearly divided by level of need, they don’t really tell you much about what day-to-day life is like in each kind of facility. That’s because there’s not really a lot of consistency between facilities; some offer just the bare minimum of state- and Federally- mandated support, and others are significantly more all-encompassing. So before you choose a particular home, be sure you know:

• What is the sense of community like between residents?

• How often does the facility schedule special events, community activities, and so on?

• What unique supports does the facility offer? (For example, do they have transportation available for shopping trips? How about to and from work?)

• How does the facility develop plans for residents with behavior issues? How involved are the residents in this planning process?

• How would you describe the relationship between the management and the local police, emergency responders, and neighbors? (NIMBYism is a big problem with group homes!)

• What can you do to incorporate as much of my old family routine into my new schedule as possible?

The Danger of Group Living: Abuse Is More Common

The one often-unexpected danger of group-living facilities is that, like nursing homes and similar places, there are more opportunities for abuse in group situations. While such situations are less common for young adults than with the elderly, they are particularly common when your special needs include an intellectual or emotional disability. If you’re considering a group home, make certain you talk about personal safety and how to appropriately respond to potential abusers with your family and caretakers.

Applying Maslows Heiarchy of Needs in the Service of Intellectual and Developmentaly Disabled Adults

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory consists of five interdependent levels that one strives to meet in a life cycle. Some cultures may place more or less emphasis on the importance of each level, but each has great applicability to achieving a meaningful life for all people. The hierarchy is depicted as a pyramid in which each level builds upon the previous. In the realm of intellectual and developmental services, the hierarchy is an excellent resource in determining unmet needs and motivation of some problematic behaviors.

Basic Needs

The first level or base of the pyramid is basic human needs. Requirements in this level consist of food water shelter, clothing and sexual gratification. If one is unable to meet the need in this level behaviors will be geared toward meeting those needs. For example, if one has suffered of starvation one may attempt to steal food. Hence, the behavior is communicating an unmet need whether real or perceived.

Safety Needs

Safety and security come from consistency and predictability. Service providers often believe they provide this for people they support. It is important to understand that safety and security come from within and is a feeling. An environment can be set up to be safe and secure by service providers, but the feeling of safety and security only comes when trust is earned. Because of past traumatic experiences and high turnover rates in the human service field, trust becomes even more difficult to attain.


Relationships with various people in one’s community is a common goal in serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Much effort is exhausted to help integrate people in their community and form healthy relationships. This is also a task that is a struggle to achieve in most cases. According to the hierarchy of needs, one will have difficulty achieving a higher level need without first achieving the previous. One element that must be present to build these relationships is trust. Without feeling, safe and secure a person will not be able to build positive, healthy relationships.


Achievement can be many different things for a person with intellectual and developmental disabilities as with all people. Achievement could be as simple as learning to sign one’s name, or it could be completing an educational milestone. If one has not built positive, healthy relationships, it is much less likely that a person will not complete their goals. Like all people, when task becomes hard and seem impossible, people tend to give up and stop working toward their goals. With positive relationships, people receive inspiration and encouragement from those closest to them to carry on a stay the course.


Self-actualization is the top of the pyramid is most often achieved later in life. Simply put, self-actualization means that all lower level needs have been realized. Usually, accomplishment leaves a personal with the feeling of a legacy, or that they will be remembered for the contributions and relationships forged during their life.

The benefit of applying the hierarchy of needs in service provision is that it allows providers of service identify areas to direct focus on. If one is having difficulty in building positive health relationships, the focus should be directed at safety and security needs first. Once a person feels safe relationships will come more naturally and with less effort on the part of the service provider.