Impact Feature Issue on Parenting Teens and Young Adults with Disabilities

Learning Life Skills:
The Resources Found in Centers for Independent Living


David Hancox is Director of the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, St. Paul, Minnesota

Rearing children is tough. Rearing teenagers at times seems impossible. And, rearing a teenager with disabilities can be downright overwhelming! Added to the usual rigors of high school for all parents and students is the need for extra effort to ensure that they are appropriately and adequately prepared for life after high school, effort that includes managing the IEP in a way that ensures the maximum benefit and preparation for the student.

One resource that can be invaluable in this transition process is a local Center for Independent Living (CIL). If you have never heard of Centers for Independent Living or are unsure how they can help you and your child, this article may provide some answers.

CILs were originated in the early 1970s by people with disabilities to provide others with disabilities with an alternative community-based resource to assist with independent living skills development, advocacy supports, peer mentoring relationships, and general information and referral. CILs were developed as an alternative to the traditional medical model that far too often viewed people with disabilities as needy and helpless and kept people with disabilities dependent. The founders of the CIL movement believed that individuals with disabilities were capable of managing and directing their own lives if they were provided with the proper and effective supports. The mantra of the independent living movement has become, “Don’t make people with disabilities dependent on you.”

Services at CILs are available to all individuals with disabilities, their families, and interested others. There are no restrictions based on disability diagnosis, age, income level, gender, ethnicity, racial identity or sexual identity. Services are consumer-directed, individually-designed, and delivered by adults with disabilities who themselves have faced many of the same challenges your child may be facing. And services are tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual, rather than requiring the person to choose from a limited list of options.

CILs provide independent living skills development – those skills needed to live successful self-directed lives. The following are a few of the many skill development areas with which they can assist:

  • Cooking, menu planning, and comparison shopping
  • Money management
  • Self-advocacy and assertiveness training
  • Resume preparation, job search preparation and support
  • Hygiene
  • Supervising personal assistants
  • Academic skills

Clearly, independent living skills cover a vast array of competencies.

Many CILs provide transition services specifically designed to assist students between the ages of 18-21 to be more active participants in their IEPs and transition processes. Several CILs have also developed leadership and personal development training curricula specific to assisting students in preparing for life after high school. Many also offer peer mentor services that match a young person with a disability with a trained mentor who also has a disability and can support personal development and social skills building. And a number of CILs offer personal assistant services to assist with personal needs.

You can locate the CIL nearest to you by contacting the National Council on Independent Living . They can connect you with information about CILs and the independent living movement, and link you to local CILs in your community or nearby.

CILs offer a valuable combination of services that will provide meaningful assistance through the difficult teen years, as well as throughout adult life. Effective preparation for life after high school is the goal, and consumer-directed CILs may be the answer for you and your child.