Essential Traits of Premier Day Programs for Adults with Developmental Disabilities: A Discussion

Day programs for adults with disabilities are a valuable way to help people with autism, intellectual disabilities and other learning difficulties learn and practice new skills. The aim could be to continue their education, prepare for a career or just to build their confidence. In all cases they should help the individual achieve a happier and more fulfilling life.

What are day programs for adults with disabilities?

Developmental disabilities day programs, as the name suggests, support adults who have passed the age where attending school is mandatory but still want to learn and practice new skills. Unlike residential programs, they allow adults to return to their families at the end of the day and to potentially participate in work, education, or other aspects of community living. Disabilities in this case could mean an intellectual disability, autism or other forms of neurodivergence or learning difficulty. These disabilities all have different traits and manifest differently between individuals, but they often present challenges when trying to master the skills needed to live independently.

How are they structured?

Some day programs are full time, while others are part time. It depends on the degree of support needed and how the program fits with other aspects of the individual’s life and goals. In some cases, they may exist in concert with other programs, such as work experience. Ages range from 18-year-olds who have just left school to adults in their 30s and older. Each will have their own specific goals, and the program will start by establishing those aims and making a plan to achieve them. Regardless of their overall goal, they will be supported by experienced coaches who work with them rather than dictating to them as they develop the skills they need.

What skills do they teach?

Skills that can be taught by developmental disabilities day programs can be wide ranging and are highly dependent on the unique needs of each attendee. This is why it is so important to identify distinct goals for each person. There must also be a certain degree of flexibility in both what is taught and how it is taught to account for individual strengths and weaknesses. Having experienced staff who recognize this is essential.

Some adults will be more focused on foundational academics such as reading, writing and math. Others will have a particular interest in practicing their social skills and self-regulation. For those whose main aim is to be able to live independently, household and financial management may be a priority. If they are beginning their professional career, they may need to develop specific workplace skills. Most students will benefit from some education in digital literacy, and modern programs will generally incorporate technology into their standard curriculums.


There is a lot of room for flexibility in the structure and content of day programs for adults with disabilities. What is most important is that each attendee is recognized as an individual and that an effort is made to work with them to identify and achieve their unique goals. This will allow them to be successful in their adult lives, even if the definition of success may vary.