What to look for in special needs housing? (or where will my child live?)
Are you parenting a child with significant special needs? Does he or she live with an intellectual or developmental disability? Is it severe autism? Down Syndrome? Or perhaps a rare genetic or chromosomal difference? If your child is an adult, you are already facing the pressing question of where will my child live?
If your child is not yet eighteen, you may be putting your head in the sand a bit, hoping that if you ignore your child’s growth – and your own aging – that a housing solution will fall from the sky. It can be truly overwhelming to think about what to look for in special needs housing – and then to learn how limited our country is in terms of current opportunities.
No matter what the age or disability of your child, finding a suitable housing situation is bound to create some work for your family. As public and private services for individuals shift increasingly towards a person-centered model, there is a greater ability to find a “fit” for your child in terms of programs and services. The same can – and should – be true of housing.
So, what to look for in special needs housing? You need to consider the location of the community, the design of the buildings, the availability of activities and recreation, and the accessibility of services. At Kokua Kona we are partnering with Living Unlimited to create a community that will address these areas for our residents.
Are you looking for your child with special needs to stay close to home? Or perhaps you intend to retire to another part of the country and would like your child to move with you? Is there a place where your child has always felt most comfortable – in terms of weather, nature, or proximity to friends and family?
As you consider what to look for in special needs housing, try to envision your child in possible locations and identify key features. There may be more than one geographic area that meets your family’s needs – so then consider where a community exists or can be created to best support your child. For our child, the answer is clear: our home-away-from home is Kailua Kona, Hawaii. So Kokua Kona is the answer for us.
The location of the community is a huge part of the decision, but also remember to consider the design of the buildings themselves. Will your child find more success in an individual apartment, with supports coming intermittently from neighbors? Or will a shared dormitory space allow for more interaction? Maybe sharing a single family home with a few other roommates makes sense? Or perhaps a cluster of tiny homes will allow for a mix of privacy and connection?
The buildings themselves can also be designed – or remodeled – thoughtfully – to allow for increased sight lines, and increased safety features. Bathrooms can include floor drains and wall-mounted toilets to allow for easier clean up. Kitchens can have lockable pantries to limit access to food if self-control is an issue. Kokua Kona will include several single-family homes to allow for flexibility in grouping residents.
As you are looking for special needs housing, also consider what your child will do with their time. Are there opportunities for them to pursue crafting, gardening, art, or other creative outlets? What opportunities for physical activity or recreation are available? Are there spaces for yoga? Is there access to hiking or biking?
If water access is important to your child is that possible? Is that access safe and supervised? Is it year-round or seasonal? Are there nearby opportunities for employment? Is there a town or city where employers may be able to hire individuals with skills and challenges like those of your child?
The town of Kailua Kona is small and welcoming. The surrounding area is not-quite-surburban, not-quite-rural, with plentiful access to both everyday conveniences and tropical nature. For individuals who are able to work, there are cafes, stores and other businesses to support their employment.
Access to Services
Special needs housing needs to be located in an area where special needs services are available. While the provision of services is intentionally separate from the housing community, the two types of providers are both essential to a productive and supportive lifestyle for the individuals with special needs.
Kokua Kona intends to partner with a highly-regarded service provider in the Kona area who will be able to offer services to individuals living in the community. This will not be mandatory. Each resident is free to choose another provider of their choice, if desired. There is absolutely no requirement to choose a certain provider.