What Is a Group Home for Adults with Autism?

Where to live?
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In the United States, people with autism age out of school services at the age of 22. At that point, in many cases, young adults on the spectrum move out of their parents' homes -- whether or not they have the ability to live independently. 

In some cases, the move is initiated by the individual with autism; more often, however, the decision comes from the parents who feel that the move makes sense.

  In some cases, the individual with autism is capable of managing his or her own home with support or supervision.  In most cases, though, adults on the spectrum need more than minimal supports; some, at the more severe end of the spectrum, need 24/7 supervision and care.

In today's world, there are few large-scale residential settings for adults with significant to severe disabilities. Rather than institutions, therefore, most adults on the spectrum live in one of a range of community-based housing options.  These include adult foster care, farmsteads, special needs communities within larger communities, and residences known as "group homes."

So...  what exactly are group homes?  Here are some of the basic factors that make group homes a specific type of residential setting:

  • Group homes are located, not in institutions, but in ordinary homes in typical communities.
  • Group homes generally house no more than 8 individuals along with support staff (often as few as 3-4).
  • Group homes are not owned by the residents or their families, but by provider agencies. These agencies are generally funded by state and federal programs. 
  • Staff for group homes are hired and paid for by agencies -- not by parents or advocates.  They are usually trained in some form of behavior management intervention, though they may not have college degrees.
  • Staff at group homes are expected to help residents to build the skills they need to care for themselves.  They may teach such skills as cooking, laundry, cleaning, hygiene, and even social skills and money management.
  • In an ideal situation, group homes for people with autism cater specifically to people on the spectrum (rather than to people with a range of developmental disabilities).  They are also integrated into the community to the degree that residents can enjoy and take advantage of cultural and recreational opportunities.

As the number of adults with moderate to severe autism rises, the demand for high quality group homes increases. The number of funded slots for adults with autism, however, has not increased to meet the demand.  As a result, depending upon the state and the individual's particular needs, it may take years to work through the waiting list and receive an "invitation" to live in a group home setting.

In order to cut through red tape, many families of adults on the spectrum have opted to form their own group homes -- funded through a combination of private and public funds.

  To make this work, families join together to purchase a home, hire a staff, and manage the finances, regulations, and maintenance required to make their investment successful.  This approach, of course, is not for everyone: not only is it often an expensive choice, but it also requires a huge commitment of time, money, and energy.

Group homes are only one type of co-living situation available to adults on the spectrum, but it is probably the best-known and best-funded option available.  By the same token, however, funding can be hard to find -- and is not guaranteed through an individual's life span.

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