Strategies for teaching independent life skills
Independent life skills are crucial for all individuals to learn while growing up as we develop, become more autonomous, and gradually rely less on our parents or caregivers. Some examples of independent life skills are practical living skills (e.g. acquiring information, traveling/commuting, and food preparation/cooking) and personal care (e.g. showering, toileting, and brushing teeth). These skills provide us with the autonomy to live on our own and deficits in this area can lead to low independence and poor quality of life.
For a neurotypical person, these are skills we almost naturally pick up. Be it through watching others’ actions, following verbal instructions, or even going onto the internet to figure things out on our own. However, these do not often come as second nature to individuals with ASD. Nonetheless, these individuals are still very capable of picking up such life skills, albeit with a different approach. With that, here are some strategies you can adopt to teach your child with ASD independent life skills.
1. Visual Aids
The most common visual aids are video modeling and step by step picture aids of the skill being learnt. The former works extremely well, especially for visual learners, as it allows your child to watch a video of a person demonstrating the skill. Moreover, you have the ability to pause the video after each step to give the learner time to grasp and imitate the action themselves.
Kellems et al. (2018) found that while both video prompts and picture aids are effective in teaching independent life skills to children with ASD, video prompting resulted in faster overall acquisition of skill among the six participants. Both methods can be used hand in hand or separately, depending on which may work best for your child.
2. Task Analysis
Just like in ABA therapy, this strategy requires you to break down the skill into smaller simpler steps and teach your child each step individually. Only when they have mastered the current step should you move on to the next in the sequence. Visuals like picture aids or a checklist are extremely useful in helping your child understand and eventually, remembering the action sequence.
3. Back Chaining
Back chaining is an alternative to the task analysis method where you teach a skill in the reverse order. For instance, teaching your child how to make a sandwich by doing or guiding them through all the steps and letting them perform the final step (i.e. putting the two slices of bread together) on their own. This method sets your child up for success by giving them a sense of achievement upon completing the final step. Once the last step is mastered, move on to the second to last step and gradually up to the first step in the action sequence.
You should get your child to practice the skills in different environments, ideally in naturalistic settings, and with different people in order to generalize the skill. For example, teaching a child with ASD about road safety in a classroom by using props to emulate a real-life setting can be useful at the initial stage of skill acquisition as it is a safe environment with little stress. However, it is important to take them out onto the street to practice the skill where it will eventually be used. Additionally, you should practice the skills with your child at least three to five times a week to also serve the purpose of maintenance once a skill is mastered.
When initially starting out with life skills training, you should focus on one skill at a time. Furthermore, you can consider starting with a skill that your child can already perform some of the steps to, to increase their confidence before adding on more skills. Most importantly, remember to always reinforce your child to let them know that they are on the right track and to motivate them to keep going. Reinforcement can come in various forms such as praises, a high five, a hug, their favourite snack, or their favourite toy.
Written by Brenda
Bennie, M. (2015). What life skills do our kids with autism need to succeed? Autism Awareness Centre. https://autismawarenesscentre.com/looking-aheadlife-skills-what-do-our-asd-kids-need-to-succeed/
Kellems, R. O., Frandsen, K., Cardon, T. A., Knight, K., & Andersen, M. (2018). Effectiveness of static pictures vs. video prompting for teaching functional life skills to students with autism spectrum disorders. Preventing School Failure, 62(2), 129–139. https://doi.org/10.1080/1045988X.2017.1393790
The Autism Community in Action. (2020). Functional life skills. The Autism Community in Action (TACA). https://tacanow.org/family-resources/life-skills/