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Life Skills for Adults with Developmental Disabilities 
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By Nicole Bovell Posted in Advocacy 2 Comments 5 min read
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Have you thought about what your child’s life plans are after graduation?

Life planning for adults with developmental disabilities is very critical. This is often a difficult topic for parents, as it can be scary and confusing for young adults with special needs. To curb a lot of these fears and guessing, federally mandated transition planning has become vital for students with disabilities.


As you take an active role in transition planning (you and your child), it will help you decide what postsecondary options are needed for your child. But what if you have already figured out where they will transition to? (i.e. college, trade school, vocational services, or adult day program). There are still many more things to check off your list when it comes to life planning. An effective life plan for your child with developmental disabilities can positively impact their future.

Here are a few factors that you should consider when life planning for your child:


Adult guardianship is the legal process by which an individual assumes the role of decision-maker for an adult who becomes unable to make such decisions for himself/herself. You can obtain guardianship over your child, the estate of your child or both your child and their estate. Guardianship is important because it protects individuals who are not able to make appropriate personal or financial decisions for themselves. You, as the guardian, would assume all duties for caring for your child and/or their assets. However, one important thing to consider is what happens to them if you are gone. Who will assume this role?

Special Needs Trust and Estate Planning

It is great when families want to leave money or property for their loved ones with disabilities. But if you do not plan carefully, leaving money to your loved one can jeopardize their ability to receive any governmental benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To rectify this issue, a special needs trust should be established. Special needs trust funds can be used to pay for physical rehabilitation, medical and dental expenses, home improvement, education, recreation and vehicles.


Where will your special needs child live? If they are living with you, do you own the home? What will happen to the property once you pass on? These are all questions that need to be answered now. Your child needs a safe place for their future. However, if you prefer to have them live in a residential program, then that should be set up early as well.

Family and Friend Relationships

Keeping family relationships intact are important for young adults with disabilities. They will continue to need emotional support and companionship as they get older. However, how will these family relationships be maintained? Who will keep in contact with your child when you are gone? Does your child have any strong friendships or role models? Now, is a great time to cultivate these relationships to provide enrichment to their lives.

Income and Benefits Maintenance

While some adults with developmental disabilities can manage their income and benefits independently, some individuals need more assistance. If your child needs their income and benefits managed, who will do it? This is where guardianship will matter.


Health insurance is very essential for individuals, especially for adults with disabilities. It is important that regular doctor and dental visits are maintained and prescriptions, if any, are filled. Is your child able to go to the doctor alone? Do they need a companion? Who will monitor and fill their prescriptions?


Getting around town is a necessity in our society today. Since we are so reliant on transportation, this can pose a challenge for some adults with developmental disabilities. Fortunately, there are many options available such as a car, public transportation and taxis. But, how will your child get around? Are they able to drive? Can they independently take public transportation? Do they know their way around town? Can they return home by themselves? These are all questions to consider as you make transportation plans for your child.

What can I do to prepare now?

While your child is still in school, planning for the future and services should begin during the transition process. Once students leave school, the case management often falls on the parents or the student. This is why parents and students needs to be prepared to manage their own services. When your child graduates, they should have a plan and services for their future. In addition to transition planning, here are some additional strategies that you can implement while your child is still in school:

  • Encourage your child to understand the nature of their own disability.
  • Teach them when to ask for help.
  • Encourage independent living and financial planning skills in your household.
  • Make sure your child has adult role models with disabilities.
  • Role-play different scenarios with your child.
  • Read books about special needs parenting and planning.

These topics may be cumbersome and take a lot of thought but planning beforehand will help with long term permanency planning for your child. The key to all of this is to start planning early! That way your child’s future will be well established.

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  1. I liked what you said about how you can prepare now for their future. My sister has a special needs child and is thinking about sending her to a developmentally challenged living home when the time is right. Making sure that she is looked after by professionals could be really reassuring for them.

    1. That is a great idea! It is always important to prepare children with special needs for the future because we never know what the future holds.