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What Happens to the Mentally Challenged Once They Grow Up?


Shawn Ley was diagnosed with autism at the tender age of five years. His parents, and especially his mother, have cared for him night and day for the past fifteen years. This is with the help of a nurse from the local nursing home. The nurse is paid by the federal government to care for Shawn, and his education in the nearby high school for special needs students is also paid for by the state. The parents are secure in the fact that their son is receiving the best care and is safe when in school.

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However, Shawn’s mother came to a sudden realization that shocked her concerning the future of her son. He is now twenty years, and the state provides for education and nursing care for such children until they attain the age of twenty one years. Shawn has one year to go and he will have no option but to get out of school, and there will be no money to retain the nurse. His mother is lost as to the next course of action, given that she has three more children to care for.

Shawn’s is not an isolated case. An increasing number of chronically ill children are reaching adulthood in contemporary society than was the case sometime back. This upsurge of chronically ill patients attaining adulthood has created a new problem in the society. What will happen to these people when they attain adulthood and the state support is lost? What will happen to their health when they can no longer walk into a children’s hospital and get services for the mentally challenged?

It is in this light that it has dawned on many people as to the need of providing care for the chronically ill, physically and mentally challenged members of the society. Especially for the mentally challenged, there is a need to make their life in adulthood as productive as possible. This paper is going to address the fate that awaits the mentally challenged individuals in the society as they transition into adulthood.

From Childhood to Adulthood: A Case for the Mentally Challenged

In the later years of 80’s and into early years of 90’s, many children diagnosed with chronic illnesses such as autism, Down’s Syndrome, muscular dystrophy and others did not survive into adulthood (Knight 1). Dr. Cynthia Peacock, a transitional pediatric quoted in Knight, holds the view that such a survival case was regarded as a novelty (Knight 2). However, this is not the case anymore. Technological improvement has led to discovery of drugs and other services that have helped prolong the lives of these children. As such, more and more of these patients are surviving into adulthood.

Approximately 90% of such patients are surviving into adulthood (Knight 3). In America, this amounts into about half a million chronically ill patients transitioning into adulthood (Knight 5). This has caught care providers in this community flat footed. There was no care services tailored for adults who had chronic illnesses, only for children. The same case applies to mentally ill patients. They are among the millions who make their way into adulthood, only to find that there is no care available for them at this stage.

When they attain the age of twenty one, many of these patients will drop out of the system, given that the state could not cater for their upkeep anymore (Elder 15). Majority of them went out and stayed with their families, with no access to services that they had been used to. After two or three years without care, medical and otherwise, the conditions of these patients will deteriorate, and they will become critically ill. It is at this stage that their family members will have no option but to go seek care for them, but in the children’s hospital, since there were no adult ones available. Cynthia explains this, “So, where do they go to? [they walk] back to Texas Children’s Hospital, into the emergency room” (Knight 3).

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The above case may apply to all chronically ill children as they transition into adulthood. But let us get specific and address the issue in the context of a mentally challenged child. In childhood, there are special schools that cater for their education. Here, they are provided with the basic and in some cases, advanced literary skills (Keshar & Hoberman 1). The state caters for this education without flinching. A bonus is thrown into the bargain, whereby the parents get to be taught skills needed in raising their mentally challenged children. In critical cases, a nurse is provided by the state, and services are availed to the mentally challenged child at home.

However, the picture is altered drastically when the child attains the age of twenty one. Like in the case of Shawn, the state walks out on them, and the nurse and medical services are no more (Anjalichugh 2). The kid gets to graduate from high school, but he has no where to go but home. They become adults in physical attributes but within them they have the brain of a nine year old. The situation is aggravated when the parents age. The mentally challenged individual, now an adult chronologically and physically, is left with no one to care for them (Keshav & Huberman 1).

On account of this, the fate of these people in adulthood becomes a priority. The community can no longer afford to sit back and assume that the issue will resolve itself. This is not only a bit too ambitious, but it is been unrealistic. The problem is real, and needs to be addressed by every member of the society (Madeleine & Sandra 212).

Challenges of the Mentally Challenged: Probable Solutions

A scaled down Boulevard Avenue is housed in the corner. It is complete with miniaturized versions of pedestrian paths, vehicles and other forms of traffic. One will be forgiven to think that this is a classroom in driving skills. But this is not the case. A casual look at the students will make it obvious that this is no ordinary classroom. It is class in progress in Young Adult Institute in Manhattan (Elder 15).

The above institute caters for the mentally challenged adults who have the passion to make their life better by becoming self reliant. They have the desire to get a job and lead a life that, albeit not as normal as that of the ordinary citizen, bears a semblance of normalcy. They consider themselves to be too old for nurses or to sit around and expect everything be done for them.

To become self-reliant, these adults who are mentally challenged need to be taught the basic life skills needed to survive in the society. The scaled down street is to teach them how to maneuver around the streets without the guidance of their nurses or their parents (Logsdon 11: Elder 15). The imitation of a supermarket helps them learn how to go shopping, and how to check whether the cashier have given back the right amount of change (Elder 15). These are just some of the skills that they learn to help them cope with real life situations.

The above depiction points to the fact that high school education is not the limit for the mentally challenged (Mosher, Ashley & Henrikson 28). There is need for these people to continue with education after high school. This is to teach them skills that they will need to work and to cater for their needs in adulthood. Many states have established programs whereby the mentally challenged members in the society can attain this. Young Adult Institute in Manhattan is such one institution.

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Another solution to address the problem of the mentally challenged in adulthood is to avail employment opportunities to them (Anjalichugh 2). The above efforts to educate them are helpful, but their value to them will be increased many folds if they could get a job where they would put them into practice. Logsdon is of the view that these people can work, but a lot of empathy, guidance and patience are needed on the part of the employer (Logsdon 11). In Manhattan, a number of employers have realized this, and they have started to recruit the mentally challenged to work for them. A case in point is the Chase Manhattan Bank and the American Management Association (Elder 15). These institutions engage these people as data processors, janitors, managers among a myriad of other duties. This is a proof that employment is possible for the mentally challenged individual.

Nursing homes is another alternative that can be used to address the problem of the mentally challenged in the society. For those who are critically ill, institutionalization may be an option. But for those who can take care of themselves, albeit under close supervision, deinstitutionalization followed by community based residential services may be an alternative (Mosher-Ashley & Henrikson 28). This is for example where the inmates occupy dormitories or housing units in the community from where they engage in their daily activities. The care givers make frequent visits to these residences and help the inmates where they may be stuck.

Challenges and Probable Solutions: Why Bother?

Cynics may wonder why the society should bother with the well being of the mentally challenged adults in the society. A quick rejoinder to these skeptics is to make them aware of the fact that these people are also human beings, and as such, they are entitled to life with equal opportunities just like the “normal” person out there. Their mental conditions-of which they are hapless victims and not of their choosing-should not be used to condemn them to a subhuman existence.

The rights of the mentally challenged are enshrined in the American constitution. The Americans with Disabilities Act provides for the rights that accrue to any American citizen who is living with any form of disability (Logsdon 11). Section 504 of the same act is the one that covers the rights of the mentally challenged, and one of them is that they are not to be discriminated in any sphere of life, be it education or employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 further condemns discrimination and other forms of unfair treatment or mistreatment of these people (Logsdon 11).

The above justification is grounded on legal reasoning, but looking at the issue from a humanistic pedestal, the perspective is more or less the same. It is not only illegal to discriminate these people, but it is also unethical. The mentally challenged child cannot fight for their rights, and it is archaic to take advantage of this fact and deny them these rights.

By educating the mentally challenged, by giving them employment and by making them self-sufficient improves their lives. This is a fact beyond doubt, an uncontestable fact. However, some benefits also accrue to the community at large for providing these services. The parents and other people will have more time to attend to other duties, and this will have both financial and psychological relief on them. The government will not need to use a lot of money to support these people through programs such as welfare. This is because they will be working and as such they will be self -reliant. This money can be used to provide other services in the society, and from this, every one in the society benefits.


People who are mentally handicapped face problems that are unique to them emanating from their condition. From childhood to twenty one years, their lives are made relatively bearable given that they are able to access state funded education and other services. However, as they transit into adulthood, these and other form of services are withdrawn. This creates a problem which needs to be addressed. Continued special education, employment and nursing facilities are some of the interventions that can be used to address these problems. The reason why these people should be catered for even in their adulthood is the fact that adulthood does not make them less humans. As such, they have their human rights intact. The society will also benefit when these people become self-reliant.

Works Cited

Anjalichugh. Should Mentally Challenged Kids be Alienated from their Families. Web.

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Elder, Janet. For Mentally Retarded Adults, Challenges of Day-To-Day Life. 2006.

Keshav, Dimple & Huberman, Barbara. Sex Education for Physically, Emotionally and Mentally Challenged Youth. 2006. Web.

Knight, Paul. What Happens when Chronically Ill Kids Grow Up? 2008. Web.

Logsdon, Ann. “Learning Disabled Adults in the Workplace”. American Human Rights Association, 45(3), 2009.

Madeleine, Greenbaum & Sandra, Noll. “Education for Adulthood: A Curriculum for the Mentally Retarded.” Staten Island Mental Health Society, 2007. 212-215.

Mosher-Ashley, Pearl M., & Henrikson, Nancy M. “Long-Term Care Alternatives for the Mentally Ill Elderly.” Nursing Homes, 2003. 28.

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"What Happens to the Mentally Challenged Once They Grow Up?" StudyCorgi, 19 Nov. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "What Happens to the Mentally Challenged Once They Grow Up?" November 19, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "What Happens to the Mentally Challenged Once They Grow Up?" November 19, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "What Happens to the Mentally Challenged Once They Grow Up?" November 19, 2021.


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