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Teaching Life Skills

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Life skills are important in the growth and development of a person on the autism spectrum. How do you teach your child independent life skills - home living, personal care, etc.? What are some difficulties you have faced? Have you used any strategies that worked particularly well?

To learn more about teaching life skills, visit this edition of Community Connections.

  1. Thorton
    April 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Potty Training!!!!

    • May 9, 2011 at 9:01 pm

      I know how parents struggle and become so frustrated when they teach toileting.
      The bathroom/toilet is a different and very strange place outside of your child’s
      comfort place to urinate. Because of this children hold their pee until they get to their comfort place which can be the couch or or any place other than the bathroom.
      “Teach Toileting” book explains the holding, the fears, the comfort and the process of change.
      Absolutely your child can be toilet trained!

  2. Aleida Acevedo
    April 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I have a five year old son and I want to teach him how to pick up after himself how would I go about that?

  3. shannon hunt
    April 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    I think that have life skills is very important for everyone to have. I was having a hard time with my son who has apergers to change is underclothes every day. I also have a hard time with him taking a shower on his own. He will tell me you didnt tell me too. I made a visual schedule to him to follow. He uses this schedule to dress in the morning for school and to make his bed. I also have this schedule set up for him to remember to take his showers. I am hoping to fade the schedule so that he will know to do those things on his own without a visual schedule.

  4. Cherri
    April 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    My son Barry ois 32. About 10 yrs ago I taught him how to do his laundry by typing up & laminating note cards for his pants, shirts, & underwear, & included how much detergent & how many drier sheets. He does such a great job I later added cards for sheets & towels, which he usually avoids-just like his dad!!LOL

  5. Kay
    April 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I’m “just” a Grandma, but I’ve been concerned about my 8 yr-old grandson (mild-to-moderate) learning about basic safety stuff like calling 9-1-1 in an emergency. How does one teach that without instilling fear of imminent danger? I don’t think they’ve taught him about that at school yet. Anyone have an experience to share?

    • Kim
      April 18, 2011 at 3:25 pm

      I’m a teacher of students on the spectrum, ages 11-15. I, too, have this concern. I have been able to teach them to dial 9-1-1 on the phone, given them a script, and role-played accidents. However, my concern is that even with this knowledge, my students will not know a true accident if they see one. My students are very concrete and often require training for each incident and every incarnation of that incident. Generalizing the skill to multiple situations often does not occur. I’d love to know how to teach them to recognize a true accident.

      • Robyn Carswell
        April 18, 2011 at 6:22 pm

        I have a daughter who is 12 and has Aspergers. Do you happen to have a girl on your roster she could correspond with? Because she is high functioning she understands she is different and often wishes she could talk with other girls on spectrum who are her age. We live in a relatively small community and we only have boys on spectrum here!

  6. Jan
    April 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    My list could go on and on (teeth brushing, bathing/hair washing, etc.)but the main issue we are facing now is pants buttoning. My daughter is 14 and could always get by with kids’ size jeans with the adjustable elastic waist. She was able to just pull them up and down when needed. However, junior-sized jeans don’t have adjustable elastic waistbands as an option. She doesn’t like to wear leggings or tights as she doesn’t pull them correctly and the crotch ends up down in her inner thigh area.
    She isn’t coordinated enough to be able to manipulate the various types of fasteners. I am actually learning to sew now in the hopes that I can make some pants that she’ll be able to wear with no assistance (and not look like they’re homemade!!)

    • Cris
      April 18, 2011 at 9:21 pm

      Sweat pants? Blair catalog has some elastic waist pants as well.

    • Fiona
      April 19, 2011 at 9:36 am

      My 11 year old son has a similar problem with fasteners; I figure I have about another year before jeans will become an issue. For the longest time he wore sweatpants and track pants all the time, then I found Boden online; they make boys jeans with hook fasteners :) However, they’re not for teenagers. If you can’t change out buttons yourself try finding a seamstress/tailor who can maybe change a button to a snap and sew the buttonhole shut…maybe not a perfect solution, but what is?

  7. April 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Potty Training ,brushing teeth

  8. April 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    feeding him new foods!

    • Cris
      April 18, 2011 at 9:32 pm

      New foods are a challenge, no doubt about it. Took my son 12 years to eat mash potatoes. If you find a food that your child likes, the next step is to slowly try foods that are similar. ie If the child likes apples then try different varieties of apples – Macintosh, Fuigi, Braeburn – then apple crisp, apple pie, applesauce, apple fritters, apple slices with peanut butter, apple salad. Some will work the first time, some will take more tries and some will be no’s. Then add another food from the same food group, ie apples and berries or grapes or some other fruit. Slip the new fruit in in with the apple – apple berry crisp, apple berry salad.

    • Cathy
      April 20, 2011 at 8:39 pm

      For me it helps if grandma asks him to try the food. His developemental pediatrician always told me don’t stress about it! This is the least of our worries. It has gotten better with age. He just turned 17. He is at least willing to try foods now. He used to just eat pizza and cheese filled tortelinni with red sauce. Now will eat cerial, pot tarts, steak, chicken, mashed potatos, different kinds of squash, broccoli and califlower.

      I do know that when he was younger, if I let him know I was frustrated it would make him dig in and be stubborn even more. If he can verbalize, ask him what he doesn’t like about it. It may be a texture that disturbs him. I got him to try califlower by creaming it. He thought it was mashed potatos.

      I hope that helps!

  9. Kristy Gantz
    April 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    I am a teacher (though I am currently staying at home to be a Mom) and a sibling of Adam, my brother, who is 28 and has autism. I think our culture and society has gotten away from teaching all students the necessity or need of life skills today, especially students with special needs and on the Autism spectrum. I completed my Masters degree two years ago and I wrote a curriculum on Life Skills and I hope to implement it into my curriculum when I go back to teaching. I feel it is a necessity to teaching students with special needs in the junior high and high school age and can even start in elementary school. In my curriculum I made a class designed specifically for Life Skills in the various areas, so it can be cross-categorical and my intention was that this could be a class that all students can participate in and not just my students with special needs. Students on the Autism spectrum and students with special needs many times need daily reminders and my hope as a teacher is to help them to develop more independent skills as they leave our classrooms and move into the community. Academics are important, but I have always felt this needs to be apart of their school day, because one more skill learned is one more step towards more independence for themselves.

  10. Kathy Pawling
    April 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    potty training?

  11. Kerreena
    April 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Hello my Son just turned 4 and what I do for him to help teach him how to put on his socks or any other task’s is I sing. I make up my own song about whatever it is that were trying to do and I make sure my face looks really happy and I make a very big deal about whatever it is he is trying to learn and it makes a hug differenace! He now can put on his pants, socks, boots, mittens, coat (which we use the flip trick) and shirt he can put on too but I have to give it to him a certain way in order for him to get it over his head. :) Im very proud of him and my self.Dont forget to give your self a pat on the back to its not easy for the parents either. Everyday is a challenge!

  12. Peggy
    April 18, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Both of my boys are on the spectrum. I’ve decided they need to learn to do laundry. My oldest will change 3-4 times a day just because he can never decide on what he actually wants to wear. The laundry can be insane some days because my husband is also in the army and he’ll come home sometimes covered head to toe in mud. My mother in law never taught my husband how to do laundry so he claims he doesn’t know how the washer works (likely story!)and I’m determined my children will at least know how to wash their clothes. They are 7 and 9 and they’ve shown a lot of interest in wanting to help with it. They love watching the washer (“mommy it go round and round”). The only problem is that my 7 y/o added bleach to the towels….they were red….now with white spots! Thankfully it was just the towels! He was so proud of himself though…..I did make sure to explain to him NOT to touch the bleach any more unless Mommy is with him :)

  13. April 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Oh there are a lot of them. Right now we are working on his touching people. He tends to act silly and slap his friends on the butt or hug them. I keep reminding him that he can’t do that. He is 10 years old and high functioning. I told him that people are going to think that he likes boys. He loves girls. He still does it occasionaly when he gets excited but we are working on it. He is also very touch and that errates people and they are not going to want to be near them. He knows that he isn’t suppose to. I am hoping that the more reminding he will eventually stop it all toghter

    • Anita
      April 19, 2011 at 9:06 am

      Make sure to have clear rules and enforce them consistently. It gets even tougher when they reach middle school.

  14. Jeanette
    April 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Money management and people skills>>> Aspergers

  15. Kris
    April 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    My son is an almost 11 yr old Aspie…we are working on washing his hair by himself, he cant stand any water running down his face. we have started using a mirror so he can see the soap in his hair that needs to be rinsed and working on the coordination of scrubbing. Tying his shoes is another obstacle, he also has texture issues with food…which is an ongoing battle..We also have been dealing with buttons on pants as he gets older its harder to find jeans with snaps as I read from another poster Jan. Life skills are a challenge and hopefully with patience and understanding we can overcome them :) …btw, its nice to see none of us are alone, thanks

  16. fade
    April 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Potty Training……..

  17. james hensley
    April 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    hello,my name is james hensley and i am the proud owner of a 2006 model,turbo charged,daughter of whom,was diagnoised with autisim a year ago,and man what a ride,
    im not a doctor or a shrink or anything like that in the professional world,i’m just your average dad,and i dont know much about this life skills stuff,but how we do it here is that my lil bit hangs out with me pretty much 24,7.
    so she pretty much learns her lifes skills by watching me and the people around us.
    we live life ,she gets her structure from her early childhood development of which are some of the most wonderful group of people i have ever met in my life,but anyways they give her structure and i give her caos,life is caos,and just because she happens to have autism,doesn’t mean that shes not a four year old.
    a child is a child first,and what type of design second.around here,there are only 2 rules,1,mind your manners in the big girl world,and 2,if it doesn’t harm you or anyone else do whatever you want,if you want to know what that says,we will tell you,if you want to know what that is,we will tell ya,if you want an ice cream?,well ,we will tell ya,hey your four years old ,you know how the frig works ,get it yourself,
    all in all the real secret to autisims is just good ole fashion love,
    we have milse stones everyday around this house ,and just because we are not rich,doesnt mean that we dont love too,
    you know in my opinion,to many people see the diagnosis and not the kid,so they tend to for get that these bright burning lights need to feel the love even if they piss you off,
    remember that we are their champions,the tips of their swords,the gods have entrusted them to us for a reason and shame on ya if you dont take care of your business.and just love them give them space and you’ll see just how amazing these little crumb snatchers really are.
    and for life skills,all well,all i can say is enjot the journey because believe me i know im new at this but i am learn as much from this four year old as i am teaching her.
    any ways sorry so long winded
    thank you
    sincerely,maria’s advocate.

    • Cheryl Kovac
      April 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm

      Love your attitude and yes we do learn as much from them as they do from us. I can see a happy well-adjusted little crumb snatcher who will grow to be anything she wants to be. Keep loving and learning.

    • Anita
      April 19, 2011 at 8:59 am

      Good luck with the mind your manners in the big girl world. If she’s anything like my son understanding what constitutes “good” manners will come difficultly.

  18. Desireé
    April 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    10 yrs old, high functioning autism. Showering, brushing teeth, picking up after himself…..all of the above are big struggles.

  19. laura jaskier
    April 18, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    I am very consistence with my son who is a 27 year old now. GOOD EXAMPLE always and follow threw with every task ask of him . Hand over hand becomes less give lots of praise and hi fives.Alway show good manners at home and out in the community.

  20. laura jaskier
    April 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    bm1454@att.com :
    Oh there are a lot of them. Right now we are working on his touching people. He tends to act silly and slap his friends on the butt or hug them. I keep reminding him that he can’t do that. He is 10 years old and high functioning. I told him that people are going to think that he likes boys. He loves girls. He still does it occasionaly when he gets excited but we are working on it. He is also very touch and that errates people and they are not going to want to be near them. He knows that he isn’t suppose to. I am hoping that the more reminding he will eventually stop it all toghter

    he will tell him no personal touching also personal space please over and give him your mean it! look- all us mothers do.

  21. Rosemary Weber
    April 18, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    My son is 22. When I give him a chore to do at home, I can’t give him too many directions at once. I break down the chore into parts so it is easier for him to complete without being overwhelmed. I have been doing this with him for many years and it has worked fine. He still needs alot of remminding to complete things. He has Aspergers and is high functioning but also ADHD.

  22. April 18, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Traditional life skills are important (dressing, grooming, etc.) but, based on 31 years of experience with children AND adults with autism, social skills (and friendships/long-term relationships) are the MOST important factor in quality of life across the lifespan. We all want our kids to be happy and social skills, not “life skills”, are the biggest contributor. I highly recommend the support of a Special Needs Life Quality Coach for both the individual with autism and their family. It can make all the difference!!

  23. Cheryl Kovac
    April 18, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    I noticed all the comments on potty training and this was one of the more difficult problem I have faced with my son. I tried everything from ping pong balls in the toilet (a game to try and get him to shoot the ball), asked childcare to take him to the toilet with other kids so he could see how to use a toilet, and finally I was advised to purchase a DVD on toilet training for kids with disabilities. It showed the procedure in cartoon form (my eldest complained there was too much information…lol) and the characters explained what it felt like when you need to go to the toilet. He watched it over and over and over (as they do) and one day he just got up and went to the toilet by himself. He’s a visual learner and since then all the life skills training I have been doing with him have involved either a computer, video, game consoles. Even going on holiday’s is much easier now that I can show him the trip via the internet so that he is familiar with it prior to leaving.

  24. margaret blickenderfer
    April 18, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    My son, age 13, and I get a chance to learn (and re-learn!) life skills during big blocks of relaxed time, like summer break. Last year we worked with keys to open doors and washing/drying his own clothes. Recently, we’ve been trying to master opening cellophane packages and resealable plastic baggies. Learning to put elastic bands on his braces was frustrating and embarrassing for him. There is never an end to learning!!

  25. Sheri
    April 19, 2011 at 3:17 am

    My son was diagnosed about 6 years ago. One tool I found that worked really well was to pick 1 thing I wanted to see improvement in and made a star chart and reward system. For instance, if the behaviour was put on a 1-10 scale and was a 10 behaviour the reward for 15 stars might be a new video game. If it was a 4 then the reward might be an ice cream from Sonic. Tailor the reward around the things that really drive your childs interest. I change and modify the number of stars required for the reward based on the amount of time to modify the behaviour. If I stared out with 15 stars before the reward and the behaviour has not improved to the degree desired, then I will change it so that the reward now will require 20 stars…….then 30 stars…..until satisfied with the results. Then I would pick a new issue to work on and start all over again.

    • Sheri
      April 19, 2011 at 3:22 am

      Just for clarification, if my son earned his 15 stars but the behaviour was not modified to the desired degree, he would get his earned prize, but would then have to earn 20 stars to get the new prize, etc…

  26. Sarah
    April 19, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Another HF ASD/ADHD kid here. The biggest problem is attention, or maybe it is verbal processing (very slow). Take your pick.

    Also, we are usually in a rush, so we end up doing it (whatever it is) for him.

    Hmmmm… My biggest piece of advice would be to get up a bit earlier, plan to leave a bit earlier – then you’d have time to wait for him to do whatever it is, however slowly.

  27. Anita
    April 19, 2011 at 9:04 am

    My son is 20 and we have just been constant in our expectations. As he learns one skill we move on to the next. We always try to set a good example and enforce the rules of society. It takes many repetitions/failures to get to success but it does come. Best advice is don’t give up or give in to the easiest way and pick your expectations to be as attainable as possible. It’s like building a house you start with the foundation.

  28. Liz
    April 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    My son is 12 with Asperger’s and he also has fine motor trouble with buttoning pants and tying shoes. My solution was to simply avoid those things for the time being and focus on other areas (i.e. Middle School!). I found boys elastic waist pants (up to big boys size 18) at Land’s End.com and I found adult size sneakers with velcro straps instead of laces by New Balance Walking Shoes (on amazon.com). I hope it’s not inappropriate to mention brandnames here, but these things can be so hard to find! I hope this helps.

    • Cheryl Kovac
      April 20, 2011 at 12:20 am

      My son is 8 and also has problems with laces and buttons. There are different ways to do up shoe laces and it has been a case of finding which one is best for him. It is not the same way I do up my laces but it works for him, although a little slow. Patience is something you become very familiar with during this journey. The buttons I have been persisting with and have found if you enlarge the button hole just a bit, it makes it much easier for them. If you can’t enlarge the button hole get a smaller button. I find if you continue to persist their fine motor skills can be improved it will just take time and patience.

  29. Deborah
    February 7, 2012 at 11:11 am

    My 16 & 13 year old stepsons are non-verbal and the both are not bowel trained. the 16 year old stands to pee and the 13 year old sits. they have no issues with sitting on the toilet while we go through PECS symbols of what WE do when we are on the toilet (sit down, poop, wipe your bum, wash your hands, etc) and the really take it in. They sit when they poop in their underwear (their mother doesn’t want them getting used to pullups so she will only allow them to be in them at bedtime). Does anyone have any suggestions to how we can go about getting them to stay on the toilet and poop!! I saw a book called Toilet Training for Autism and Special Needs .. has anyone heard of it before???

  1. April 19, 2011 at 12:13 pm

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