Preparing for the First Apartment: Beyond Home Furnishings and Domestic Supplies
For many parents, a son or daughter’s move to their first apartment is a highly anticipated milestone on the path towards adulthood and independence. A parent’s role in preparing for the move often includes helping to furnish and supply the new living space. For a parent of a young-adult child with an intellectual or physical disability, managing an endeavor of this kind usually involves additional types of support. Having worked as an Independent Living Advisor at a university-based program for college-aged students with disabilities, I have learned that families who approach a new independent living space as a blank canvas rather than attempt to replicate the family home, achieve the most consistent success in building a lasting foundation for independence.
Whether the first move is six months or six years in the future, families can prepare for apartment living by using the “S.C.O.R.E.” approach. I came up with the acronym S.C.O.R.E. to convey to parents elements that are fundamental to preparing for the transition to an apartment. Families who formalize the concepts of Scheduling, Consequences, Ownership, Routine, and Expectations in the home are the families I have seen to experience the smoothest transition to apartment life.
The ways to apply S.C.O.R.E within the family home and then transition the concepts to an apartment home are unique to every family. Although methods may vary, integrating S.C.O.R.E. into your preparation process will help clarify everyone’s role during the transition to an independent setting.
Scheduling: Whether in the family home or in the apartment, establishing a schedule needs to include input from your young-adult child. A parent’s role in helping to define a schedule around apartment maintenance might be to discuss relevant tasks and to suggest using a large, erasable white board. While the white board is a useful apartment management tool, the restraint you demonstrate in leading your child to determine a schedule for him or herself is what is most important. In addition, accepting that your child may choose to vacuum their apartment once per week (not several times per week as might occur in the family home) will demonstrate your confidence in his or her ability to make sound decisions.
Consequences: Prior to moving to an apartment, you can support your young-adult by clarifying and allowing consequences to occur naturally. For example, the result of your child failing to do laundry might result in a favorite item of clothing not being available to wear. This would not be a time for you to do an emergency load of laundry! It is essential for a young-adult to understand that their decisions and behaviors determine outcomes, and it is important for a parent to be comfortable with missteps, oversights, false starts, and imperfection.
Ownership: The concept of ownership can be learned and reinforced in the family home by allowing decisions and actions to impact others. Together, you and your young-adult child may agree that he or she plans and cooks a meal once a week for the family. You may collaborate on choosing a recipe, making a shopping list, grocery shopping, and cooking. During your preparations, you might discuss how not preparing the meal could affect others – others may have to cook, dinner might be late, or the purchase of take-out might be necessary. Refrain from rushing to the rescue if dinner is not prepared as agreed. Allow some time for your young-adult to problem-solve, and use the event to demonstrate how the oversight affects others.
Routine: Defining a streamlined and skill-appropriate schedule that can be repeated is key for transitioning into a well-managed apartment. Introduce a simple routine while your son or daughter is living in the family home – agree to one or two items per day (exercise, wake up time, chores, hygiene tasks, enrichment activities, etc.). Maintain consistency from week to week, and collaborate when it is time to add to the routine. Encourage your son or daughter check items off when complete. A large whiteboard is an excellent tool for integrating routine. (See Scheduling.)
Expectations: The most significant piece of the S.C.O.R.E. acronym is “expectation.” When meeting new families every year, it is easy to identify those who are ready to make the transition to an apartment – those who have the genuine expectation for their young-adult child to take on the varied tasks and responsibilities associated with independent life. When a parent compromises their expectations, a child will often do the same.
Parents who maintain a boundary between the family home and their child’s independent living space and hold their son or daughter accountable to clearly defined responsibilities create a natural path for transitioning to apartment life. While it is important to supply a first apartment with the appliances, furnishings, adaptive devices, and assistive technologies to promote a safe, healthy, and comfortable home, it is equally important to formalize realistic and meaningful learning opportunities prior to the move. Successful parents appreciate the differences between their home and the new independent living space. I encourage parents to accept that an apartment will look and operate quite differently from the home provided during childhood. Remember to take comfort in knowing that the home you son or daughter is creating is possible because of the lessons and values they learned from you in your home!
Karen Oldoni is an Independent Living Advisor at Lesley University’s Threshold Program – a college -based posts secondary program for young -adult students with disabilities. She has collaborated with students and their parents for nearly twenty years as they success fully transition to apartment life. Ms. Oldoni has a B.A. from Colgate University.
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This post originally appeared on our September/October 2017 Magazine