Most parents are excited when our children approach graduation from high school. It’s time to look toward college, trade school, or entering the work force. However, high school graduation can be a time of high anxiety for parents of special needs children. Parents have enjoyed the comfort and security of school for over 20 years in some cases. This transition can be scary time for parents who work and will have to make other arrangements for their now adult children.
Community-Based Day Programs
As the name suggests, community based day programs are programs that spend most of their time in the community as opposed to a stationary center setting. Although both options are considered community based services, community based day support programs are required to spend more time in the community than in the center. Some community based day programs only have a small meeting area before going out into the community. They then spend the majority of their time doing various community activities. Some community based programs also offer a center for participants to gather before and after community outings.
Community based day support is a great option for people who love being on the go. Community activities are scheduled almost daily. Participants receive a high level of community integration through activities going to stores, restaurants, and public buildings on a regular basis. Participants get plenty of opportunities to develop social skills and independent living skills by daily contact with the community. Community integration is the number one goal in this type of program.
Community based day support programs tend to be less popular and more difficult to implement. Finding community activities every day can be a challenge. Inclement weather can pose a major challenge to community based programs. There may be limited opportunities for community activities in extreme cold and hot weather. Transportation may also pose a problem with community based day support programs. Maintenance of vehicles and gas costs will likely be higher with a community based day support program.
Center-Based Day Programs
Center based are the most common day support program. Although they are “center based”, they also spend time in the community. However, participants spend the majority of their time at the center. Center based programs provide most of their activities on site. Activities are usually geared toward learning independent living skills, social integration, and leisure. Some day support program also prepares participants for pre-vocational programs or supportive employment.
Center based day support programs usually rely on Medicaid transportation to get their clients to and from the center. On rare occasions, day support programs have their own transportation service and provide transportation to and from the program. These programs tend to provide more reliable transportation and are preferred by most clients and case managers. Center based programs tend to have a more developed center and can offer a variety of activities without going out into the community. A good center based program will provide several rooms that can provide different activities. Some center based programs provide an art room, media/game room, computer room, and a snooze room. A snooze room is quiet room were participants can go and relax. Center based programs can provide these activities in addition to going out into the community several days a week.
It is important to plan ahead well before high school graduation. Day support programs are usually funded by some form of Medicaid and may require placement on a statewide waiting list. Depending on your state, there may be a lengthly waiting list for services. I recommend seeking case management services and placement on the state waiting list as early as elementary school and no later than middle school. There is still no guarantee that funding will be available but being prepared can help ease the transition before graduation. A case manager or service coordinator may also be helpful in finding alternative programs and funding sources.