Community Adjustment of Young Adults with Mental Retardation: Overcoming Barriers to Inclusion

By Ittenbach, Richard F.; Abery, Brian H. et al. | Palaestra, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

Community Adjustment of Young Adults with Mental Retardation: Overcoming Barriers to Inclusion


Ittenbach, Richard F., Abery, Brian H., Larson, Sheryl A., Spiegel, Amy N., Prouty, Robert W., Palaestra


Movement of persons with mental retardation out of institutions and into community settings is occurring at an ever increasing pace (Amado, Lakin, & Menke, 1990). State and federal laws have legitimized the basic rights of persons with mental retardation to live, work, and participate in typical community settings. Yet, physical integration is not synonymous with full community inclusion. Numerous barriers remain that serve as obstacles to successful assimilation into community life. For instance, successful social integration depends on attitudinal changes of persons without mental retardation-- families, friends, service-delivery professionals, and the general public--toward persons with mental retardation. The way young adults with mental retardation are perceived by others often restricts their opportunities for participation in activities that allow for development of social relationships, enhancement of self-esteem, and enjoyment of life. Removal of such barriers requires that they first be identified. Action plans and strategies can then be developed to remove, or at the least minimize, effects upon the qualityof-life experienced by this segment of the population.

Barriers to

Full Inclusion

Young adults with mental retardation are confronted with numerous barriers to community integration as they move from the dependence of childhood and early adolescence to the autonomy and independence of adulthood. The most obvious of all barriers is lack of access to community living environments. Deinstitutionalization has resulted in a large increase in the number of persons with mental retardation living in community settings. However, an estimated 90,000 people with mental retardation remained in large, state-operated institutions as recently as 1989 (White, Lakin, Bruininks, & Li, 1991). For young adults with mental retardation to experience the many benefits of community inclusion, they must first live in settings that provide access to a wide range of employment, recreational, and self-enrichment activities.

A second obstacle to full inclusion within the community stems from the rather restrictive attitudes of parents and family members. Many parents express concern about impending moves from institutions to small community facilities. Reasons for apprehension include fears about the appropriateness of available community settings, anxiety that the move will have a negative impact on the family, and concerns that the young adult does not possess necessary skills to function adequately within the community. Discussions with parents following moves of their young adults to community settings revealed more positive feelings about these placements, as 80% of the parents reported satisfaction with the deinstitutionatization process (Larson & Lakin, 1991).

A third major barrier to community inclusion results from opposition on the pan of community members. Some community members resist development of group homes in their neighborhoods (Bates, 1986; Gale, Ng, & Rosenblood, 1988; Lubin, Schwartz, Zigmond, & Janicki, 1982). Reasons for such opposition include concerns about negative influences on property values, neighborhood character, and neighborhood children (Lubin et al., 1982). However, follow-up studies have demonstrated indifferent or accepting attitudes by community members (Conroy & Bradley, 1985; Gale et at., 1988) and no decreases in property values (Ryan & Coyne, 1985; Weiner, Anderson, Nietupski, 1982) following the opening of small community residences.

A fourth and equally critical barrier to community inclusion has resulted from lack of funding necessary to provide quality services in small community-based settings (Jaskulski & Metzler, 1990). While the majority of young adults without mental retardation are typically able to find enough resources to move from parental homes within a year or two of leaving school, general lack of financial resources prevents many young adults with mental retardation from moving into supported community residential settings during the same developmental period. …

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