Independent Living

Contributed by Joanna Lofton, Autism Alliance of Michigan Community Resource Specialist

Independent living is much more than simply moving out of a parent’s/guardian’s home, going off to college or just turning eighteen.  For individuals with a disability, it is often a series of coordinated services and educational skills and processes that must be learned, if one is to experience a higher degree of independence in adulthood.

Students with an Independent Education Plan (IEP) are more likely than their neurotypical peers to be socioeconomically disadvantaged and to encounter problems with health, communication and completing typical tasks independently. Middle and Secondary school systems are charged with teaching academics as their primary focus and often fall short of utilizing the Transition process of the IEP (Individualized Education Program) which prepares students to successfully learn to navigate their daily lives independently.  Most of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the parent/guardian, to either teach those skills themselves or to connect with state and federal services for help.

Learning the appropriate skills such as using an alarm to wake up and good personal hygiene, should start early in childhood, but many families are overworked and overwhelmed both emotionally and financially. These and other necessary skills, along with support, allow individuals with disabilities the opportunity to live their lives as they choose.  Approximately 76% of high school youth with an IEP say they expect to acquire some post secondary education, while 94% of their peers have the same expectation. This gap of almost 20% makes it even more important to acquire the needed skills to be independent (U.S. Department of Education: Preparing for life after high school: The characteristics and experiences of youth in special education).

For those who wish to access state and federal services, it begins with applying for Medicaid.  Obtaining Medicaid opens the door to Community Mental Health services.  Through (CMH) an individual can obtain an array of services to assist them in learning skills to help them live more independently and be an active participant in their community.

Through Community Mental Health (CMH), the individual/family can obtain mental health therapy, medication management, support coordination, respite, community living supports, housing and transportation assistance; all specifically designed to meet their independent needs. Accessing these services can also increase the likelihood of obtaining and maintaining employment. 

Employment has benefits far beyond the increase in available financial resources.  It has been shown to improve both physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Working can also increase the opportunity to create lasting friendships and positive community involvement.  Individuals with disabilities want and deserve the same opportunities as everyone else, and with the assistance of family and the community, a fuller life is not out of reach.

For additional information and resources on Independent Living and other topics, please reach out to the Autism Alliance of Michigan with any questions or concerns at any time: or 877-463-2266.