If you're worried about your child's future, you're not alone. As your child grows up, it'll be time to start thinking about what kind of life they'll have once they reach adulthood. How much support will they need? What will they do after high school? One important topic to discuss with your child is housing.


Independent vs. Interdependent

For most parents of children with autism, the dream is usually independent living. But for autistic adults, "independence" can be achieved in many ways -- and usually looks more like interdependence. There are adults on the spectrum that have low support needs but still find comfort in having a roommate, or a shopping buddy for the mall when they feel overwhelmed. Even extremely successful, high achieving autistic people still need support with certain tasks. Shoot, neurotypical young adults still call home and ask mom or dad for advice. Needing support isn't a bad thing! If your child finds living alone is too much, that isn't a failure on your part or theirs. Go into their adulthood transition planning with the mindset that "independent" may look a little different for your child, and that's okay.


Have a conversation with your child about future housing options

Ideally you want to start this conversation early on. We think starting around age 14 is best. You want to get a good sense of what your child wants out of life and what housing would be most comfortable for them. As with all adulthood transition planning, it should be person-centered. Your child's desires should always be at the forefront of the conversation. 

Some good questions to start with:

  • Do you want to live by yourself someday? What would you enjoy about living alone? What would you not like?
  • What types of support would you need to live alone or independently? (Meal planning, cooking, grocery shopping, getting appropriate sleep and exercise, transportation, etc.)
  • Would you like living with a roommate? What kind of roommate do you think would be a good fit for you? (List characteristics, for example: “quiet, likes video games, disabled or not disabled, around the same age.”)
  • How would you feel about living in a group or community setting where there are shared activities and meals? What would help you feel comfortable in that living situation? (Example: “Having my own bathroom and a TV in my room.”)
  • Would you like living with a family (either yours or another) and to be treated like a member of that family? Or to just have your own room or extension of the house and live with a family, but more independently?
  • Where would you feel safest? Happiest?
  • What type of place would you never want to live?


As you and your child talk, write down their thoughts and yours. This way they'll be handy for the next steps. Keep in mind, this should be an ongoing conversation, as your child's needs and desires may change with time.


Explore housing options together 

Options could include your family home, with roommates in an apartment, in a group home, or somewhere else. Some options require meeting certain eligibility criteria and getting on waiting lists early. Depending on your child's support needs, age, and what's available in your area, finding the right housing could require a long wait. The earlier you can start the process, the better.


If you’re not sure where to start, this article lists 6 types of housing to be on the lookout for. Your child’s school and other parents are great resources to find out about potential options. Local groups, like your area’s Arc chapter, autism society, or special needs groups on social media, are good places to find resources as well. For additional help, consider working with a social worker and/or case manager.


Come into agreement about your child's housing arrangements

Many parents feel that their child will never be able to live more independently, while their children crave greater independence. Alternatively, your child may feel they aren't ready to alter their living arrangements yet, but you do. You and your child might disagree about how much support they need. This disagreement in desires and expectations can cause a lot of frustration. As a child’s needs increase with adulthood, parents may find themselves desperate and overwhelmed. Begin preparing your child for interdependent living before you burn out.


One way to do this is by incorporating other people your child can rely on in their life now. This way if you are no longer able to care for them, or as they grow independent, they have a support system to rely on outside of you. Isolation is common among special needs families, and it hurts every member of your family – so open your world up to a community!


Compromise and flexibility

You can usually always find a way to compromise so that your child's wishes are honored, but they're also having their needs met and getting adequate support. Your child may find that the housing they initially chose isn't right for them. You may find that with the right support, your child can thrive in living arrangements you didn't think were possible. And as your child's needs and desires change, their living arrangements can too! So keep an open mind, and the lines of communication open.


More on the transition to adulthood

There are plenty more tips and action items where this came from! For more help transitioning your autistic child to adulthood, create your free, personalized Beaming Action Plan.