The Specialized Housing Community:
Home in the Truest Sense of the Word

Community works in more ways than we ever imagined at the inception of Specialized Housing.

A community can be a group of people who have something in common, such as geography, ideology, interests, values. In a group, adults with developmental challenges can have their interests represented and take action. While the nature of their disability makes it difficult for many of these adults to advocate for themselves, in a group they can advocate for each other. Shared voices have a greater impact than a single voice.

It is the same for the group of families who come together in mutual support of the residents in independent living. The families share an experience and a sense of kinship that makes for extended family in a very real sense.

Staff at each household describe the residents as being their family, also. Residents have spontaneously organized celebrations of staff promotions, baby showers, etc.

Research shows that people who have affiliations and community connections lead longer, healthier lives. We have spent over twenty-seven years observing the ways adults with developmental challenges create communities, in their households and in the wider community. People with developmental challenges are confronted with a culture that in many ways has left them behind, a workplace where speed is of the essence, a social culture tied to technologies: voice messaging, text-messaging, e-mailing, face-booking, twittering. Many cognitively challenged adults have difficulty with the fine-motor and verbal skills necessary for these social networks, and may be confronted continually with their limitations.

Each of the households forms a community within the larger community. They have close relationships with many people, with coaches and personal trainers, with co-workers, with people at their places of worship, with medical and/or psychological support people, with neighbors and friends. It should be noted that over the years, several residents have gotten married, moved to their own apartments, continued to be part of the social fabric of their former homes, staying in touch with their old friends.

Recently the residents and families of one household celebrated the 20th anniversary of the house’s opening. The residents made heartfelt speeches. One woman described the difference between a house and a home: “A house is just a building. A home is where you have love. This is my home.” When one man’s younger brother got married, his co-workers teased him, asking him why he wasn’t married, too. But this man replied: “I belong to three families, my mother and father, my sister and brother-in-law, my brother and sister-in-law and their children, and they care about me. I have all of you at work and you care about me. And then when I get home, I have nine housemates who love me, too. Why would I want to mess that up?”

They always have a peer group to come home to, relax with. When they are at home, it is home in the truest sense of the word.


Excerpted from “on Community” by Margot Wizansky and David Wizansky.