It's a common rite of passage. Children grow, and one day, they move out of the family home.
Unfortunately, only a small portion of people with autism follow this plan. Researchers say about 17% of people with autism ages 21 to 25 have ever lived independently.
Living alone isn't right for every person with autism. Some need the constant support of family members and caregivers to stay happy and healthy.
But just because few people with autism live alone doesn't mean it's impossible. With a bit of planning, independent living isn't only possible; it's ideal for some people with autism.
As activists explain, people with autism want what most middle-class families have. They want a job, a home, and money for a few luxuries. Independent living is part of that picture.
The Basics: How to Find the Right Home
Before you pack your first box, you must determine your new home's location. Plenty of options exist. You'll need to narrow down your choices until you find the spot that is right for you.
Autism Speaks recommends making basic decisions about where you want to live. Consider your ideal:
- Neighborhood. Do you prefer city life? Or are you at home in the suburbs?
- House type. Do you want a standalone house, or would an apartment feel better to you?
- Support level. Do you feel ready to live without any outside help at all? Or do you need staff available around the clock?
There's no shame in needing support. As the Autism Society explains, many people with autism live in supported living homes when they move out of the family home. When they grow comfortable, they transition into homes of their own later on.
- Supervised group homes. Rent a room in a house located in an average neighborhood. Live with others who have autism, and get help from trained professionals. In some homes, support is available around the clock.
- Supervised living. Rent an apartment in a building made for people with autism. This is a good option for people who need some help but don't require daily care.
- Independent living. Find your own home, but tap into community resources as needed when you need extra help.
Some people with autism live independently in homes they choose with no help at all. But if you're not quite ready for that yet, look into supported models to help you learn. Tap into resources like the Autism Housing Network to find appropriate choices in your state.
If you're ready for an independent life, but you need a few modifications, look for autism-specific apartments. Developers make modifications to homes, including adding extra soundproofing panels and hiring support staff for residents, so you can live on your own while surrounded by the help you need.
Set Up Your Home Like a Pro
Select your own home, and you can become an interior designer. Make choices about how your home looks, feels, and supports you every day.
If you rent your home, look over your rental agreement before you get started. Sometimes, landlords ban residents from:
- Painting walls, floors, or ceilings.
- Hanging lights or air conditioners in windows.
- Adding or removing carpet.
- Punching holes in walls.
Make sure your plans are okay with your landlord. If you're not sure, ask first.
With the details approved, get started. This is your home, and you're free to let your creativity run wild. Add colors that help you feel grounded and secure, and express your personality with artwork, pillows, plants, and more.
Arrange your furniture to support your lifestyle, and make helpful modifications for bad days. For example, create space for seated activities, like eating and studying, and keep them clear of clutter. Place breakable or fragile items on high shelves, so you won't be tempted to toss and break them when you're frustrated.
Your parents likely made home safety amendments when you were a child. If those techniques still help you, replicate them in your home. Ask your parents for help in modifying those techniques to fit your new space.
Attend to Everyday Chores
With your new home rented and your modifications made, you're ready to settle into your new life. But many of the things you did while living with your parents must be part of your new routine.
Autism Speaks says some people benefit from daily life skills schedules. Yours might look like checklists you can follow each morning, so you don't skip anything important. Write down tasks like:
- Wake up.
- Dress in a t-shirt, shorts, and running shoes.
- Run on the treadmill for 30 minutes.
- Put workout clothes in the hamper.
- Take a 15-minute shower with hot water and soap.
- Hang up the towel to dry.
- Get dressed.
- Eat toast, cereal, and fruit for breakfast.
- Take your medication.
- Make a sandwich, pour juice into a thermos, and put the sandwich and thermos into the backpack.
- Wash dishes.
- Make bed.
- Go to work.
Use the same technique to handle your evening routines, and use different lists to help you navigate weekends and holidays.
Some tasks happen on a weekly (not daily) schedule, but they're just as important. For example, if you live independently, you must manage your money. Start by creating a budget.
As the National Autistic Society explains, a budget helps you:
- Keep track of how much you spend.
- Avoid spending more than you have.
- Decide whether or not you can afford something you want.
- Pay off debt.
- Save money.
If you're not sure how to create a budget and don't feel comfortable asking your parents or counselors for help, start with a training module from the National Autistic Society. You'll learn how to use a cash machine, handle debt, and more. You can also download printable budget worksheets.
You must also manage your medications. That means:
- Filling prescriptions when they run low.
- Taking doses on time.
- Never taking more than one dose at a time.
Set aside time each week to assess your medications. Call in orders when you need to, and set yourself up for the week to come.
Experts recommend using clear pillboxes marked with the days of the week. Fill them once, and you’ll then take pills from them when the day arrives. Add this task to your once-weekly calendar to stay on track.
Your home must also stay clean and tidy. Some people cope by cleaning every day. They wash dishes as soon as they get dirty, for example. They load the washing machine with the clothes they wore that day.
But others clean once a week, typically on a day that's not filled with work or therapy appointments. Use this approach, and you will clean every room of your home all at once.
You could also hire someone to help you with this task. The housekeeper comes into your home while you are at work to tidy up, and you come home to a clean space.
Other Resources to Help You Plan
Finding and maintaining a home is hard work. Remember that you don't have to do this alone. Ask your parents, doctors, and therapists for help with any questions you have about how to find and set up your home the right way.
Tap into other resources too, including:
- Online workbooks. Use references like this one from the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration to help you plan. Fill out the worksheets to see if living alone is right for you, and find out more about the support you might need to do so independently.
- Targeted therapy. Daily living skills, like budgeting and self-care, may not come naturally to you, but you can learn. Therapists can build programs that break down complex tasks into smaller steps you can understand and practic
- Local Autism Speaks chapters. Find out where other people with autism in your community live and how they enjoy those spaces. These local chapters may also have information on supportive homes in your area.
Never forget that people are ready and willing to help you take the steps that are right for you. People want to help. Reach out to them and explain what you need.
- Few Young Adults With Autism Live Independently. (September 2013). Disability Scoop.
- Adjusting to Living on Your Own When You Have Autism. (July 2018). The Mighty.
- Housing and Community Living. Autism Speaks.
- Residential/Housing. Autism Society.
- Housing Directory. Autism Housing Network.
- Innovative Housing Options Help Autistic Adults Find Independence. (April 2017). Stat.
- Safety in the Home. Autism Society.
- Life Skills and Autism. Autism Speaks.
- Managing Money. National Autistic Society.
- Managing Money (Training Module). National Autistic Society.
- Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide to Safety. (2014). Organization for Autism Research.
- Renting a Home of Your Own. (2010). Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration.
- Daily Living Skills: A Key to Independence for People With Autism. (April 2014). Interactive Autism Network.
- Chapters. Autism Speaks.