The community adjustment of young adults with mental retardation remains a crucial issue for all human service providers. No longer does adjustment imply simply the physical integration of persons with disabilities into community settings. Rather, it refers to the adjustment and integration of the whole person into community life. Whether one describes community adjustment as a process, an outcome, a philosophy, or a multidimensional concept (Bachrach, 1981), community adjustment has become synonymous with the term quality-of-life, a quality that depends in large part on one's happiness and success in socially sanctioned, age-appropriate tasks.
In recent years, much has changed about the way young adults with mental retardation have participated in community settings. State and federal laws, as well as precedential court cases have documented expectations that people with developmental disabilities have the right to live, work, and participate in typical community settings (e.g., Americans with Disabilities Act, PL 101-336; Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, PL 101-496; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, PL 101-467). Each year, proportionately fewer people with mental retardation live in institutions (63% in 1977, 41% in 1988), more live in homes with 15 or fewer people (21% in 1977, 45% in 1988) (Amado, Lakin, & Menke, 1990), and more work in integrated settings (9,882 in supported employment settings in 1986; 70,000 in 1990; Wehman, 1991). These changes have provided opportunities for ever increasing numbers of persons with mental retardation to establish their presence in integrated environments. The current challenge is to move beyond implementing strategies of physical presence to identifying mechanisms of active participation across the entire range of community settings.
Kregel, Wehman, Seyfarth, and Marshall (1986) have suggested that domestic, recreational, and community skill building tasks serve as core elements of training programs for people with mental retardation living in community settings, but that little data exist on which to evaluate the success of such programs. The difficulty in evaluating the structure of training programs is related to the broader problems of defining facets of community adjustment for persons with mental retardation (Lakin, Brunininks, & Sigford, 1981). To address these issues, researchers at the University of Minnesota have proposed a model of adjustment based on four empirically validated dimensions: Social Integration, Recreational/Leisure Integration, Economic Integration, and Need for Support Services (Bruininks, McGrew, Thurlow, & Lewis, 1988; McGrew, Bruininks, Thurlow, & Lewis, in press). Despite the importance of conceptual frameworks, however, there is more to adjustment than simple outcomes and normative life events; as Blalock (1988) has described: a realistic perspective requires more attention to the spectrum of abilities and needs presented by each individual [italics added] in each facet of life; strengths and weaknesses in all areas of living fall along a continuum that remains open to change, depending on one's experiences. (p.4)
Several perspectives defining young adults development come from the field of developmental psychology. Unfortunately for young adults, most well known theorists such as Freud and Piaget have emphasized the early years and have all but ignored the years from adolescence onward. However, a few theorists, most notably Erikson (1968), Levinson (1986), and Havinghurst (1972), have taken a lifespan approach to the study of human development and, while they have not focused on young adulthood exclusively, have given credibility to the notion that important developmental events occur beyond the early years. In the simplest case, Erikson considered the struggle between intimacy and isolation to be a major developmental task of young adulthood. Levinson, focusing on adults of all ages, considers making choices in such areas as intimacy, employment, friendship, values, and lifestyles to be the major tasks of the transition years. For Havinghurst, young adulthood is as much a process as a time for making choices. During young adulthood one must do such things as find a mate, begin a family, and assume parental responsibilities; one must experiment with various living arrangements and begin assuming management responsibilities for a home, for oneself, and for others. A career, appropriate social networks, and civic responsibilities are additional key responsibilities of the young adult.
There is one theorist for whom young adulthood is not simply one of many stages of development, but, rather, the major area of inquiry. Chickering (1969) has outlined seven dimensions of development, called vectors, along which development occurs. The term vector implies both direction and magnitude, and refers to a sequence that Chickering believes may be more spiral than linear. though Chickering believes there to be a sequence to one's development, the sequence is neither completely age-based nor invariant. Whether one refers to stages, tasks, milestones, or trends, Chickering has reported that all young adults have seven major areas of development in common: competence, emotions, autonomy, interpersonal relationships, purpose, identity, and integrity (p.8). Growth along any one dimension is not dependent on any other vector; however, unresolved conflicts at earlier stages will likely inhibit development at later stages.
Given the recent emphasis on community adjustment, the exceptionally large number of young adults with mental retardation living or preparing to live in community settings, and the near void of information on developmental components of young adulthood, an integrative study of young adult development for persons with mental retardation seems long overdue. This review of the literature is an effort in that regard. By bringing together two previously disparate areas of research, community integration and young adult development, it is hoped that the conceptual and theoretical frameworks of both will be extended. The following discussion is organized around the four domains reported in the Bruininks et al., (1988), and McGrew et al., (in press) research.
A conceptualization of people as inherently social animals has existed since the time of Aristotle. However, it has only been in recent years that the influence of social relationships for young adults with disabilities has received substantial attention. The importance of regular social contact with valued others, especially peers, cannot be understimated. Social relationships contribute to one's capacity to relate to others, development of social controls, and acquisition of societal values (Hartup, 1991). Evidence has accumulated linking the quantity and quality of one's social relationships, often referred to as networks, with a wide …