Teens with ASD: Life Skills


The future depends on what we do in the present. - Mahatma Gandhi

I asked parents of older teens and adults (link below) what advice they had for parents of tweens and one resounding concern kept coming back - "academics are nice but if your kid can't function in the real world, he's in trouble, so teach them life skills."

Here is the critical piece though - YOU must teach life skills to your child. Yes, the school or a therapist can help, but unless you are consistent with your child 24/7 about learning and using these skills consistently everywhere you go, then they won't stick. Always remember that life skills must be functional and stick to be useful.


Why are life skills so important?

  • Safety - People who cannot care for themselves are more open to abuse and neglect by caretakers.
  • Self-esteem - Self-esteem comes from achievement and ability. If your child can do things to help themselves, they are empowered and happier. Self-reliance makes people the "master of their destiny' because they don't always have to wait around for others to do for them and they can choose to do things their way.
  • Health - Kids who can feed, clean, clothe themselves and take care of their own basic needs will live a healthier life.
  • Independence - Not having to depend on someone for everything will open the child's world up to more independence and they will have more living and work options to choose from, rather than being locked up in a maximum care facility. The more skills they have, the more options they have for housing and work. For example, if your child isn't toilet trained and can't do basic self-care, there will only be one type of housing he can go into. There is no guarantee that placement would be good, but you'd be left with no other options.
  • Self-advocacy - when children can care for themselves and perform decision making tasks, they can have a larger say in their own lives and making informed choices to be successful in creating and accomplishing their own dreams. Being empowered to set your course for the future is something all people strive for, regardless of disability.
  • Self-Regulation - Learning to manage stress, anxiety and feelings is a very important life skill and will help your child be able to cope with the rigors of daily life.


What are Life Skills?

Basic living skills are laundry, cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, shaving, personal hygiene, shopping, ordering at a restaurant, paying bills, working, taking vitamins or pills, making healthy choices, exercise, advocating for themselves, navigating their community, and making and keeping friends. Some life skills overlap with social skills of course and both are necessary to live a safe, fulfilling life.

How can you know what your child needs to learn? Assessments like the ABLLS and VB-MAPP can be used to find out where your child's strengths and weaknesses lie and show you what skills need to be taught to fill in the gaps.


How to Teach Life Skills

Here is an article on how to teach a skill step-by-step. There are many books and a few websites available but there are also curriculum and therapists or teachers who already teach these skills. You can use teachers or therapists to teach the skill but if you do, you need to also learn what they are teaching and how they are teaching it, so you can follow through at home.

How do you teach a child to do basic life skills tasks? Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Every task has steps to it, and just like any ABA or Discrete Trial drill, you just need to break down the task into tiny bits and teach each bit separate and then together. Some kids do better with photos of each step, some with written word. We used both - photos with the written description under the picture. Learn more here.


LifeSkill Examples 

Personal Care Skills

  • Shaving
  • Bathing/showering
  • Deodorant
  • Brushing hair
  • Brushing teeth
  • Washing face
  • Dressing (picking out clothes that are seasonally accurate, putting them on independently)
  • Nail care
  • Genital care

Food Preparation Skills

  • Bake
  • Blend
  • Boil
  • Broil
  • Chiffonade
  • Chop
  • Cut
  • Flip
  • Fry
  • Grate
  • Julienne
  • Macerate
  • Make a slurry
  • Measure
  • Peel
  • Proof
  • Read a recipe
  • Sauté
  • Shred
  • Squeeze
  • Steam
  • Stir
  • Wash dishes
  • Whisk
  • Zest

Read more at http://tacanow.org/family-resources/asd-teens-cooking-class/
Safety Skills
There are many types of safety skills that our kids need: swimming, internet safety, eloping/wandering, bullying, personal safety, among others.

Making sure your child is in a safe environment, even at work/volunteering, is paramount. Unlike schools, employers may not do background screening checks on other employees so if your child will be left alone with any staff, make sure they are properly screened and trained to work with your child.

More information on safety issues, skills and background checks is at http://tacanow.org/family-resources/keeping-your-kids-with-asd-safe/

College Skills
Some basic lifeskills are needed to live on campus, your child will need these skills first. Work them into IEPs, starting with your Transition IEP.

  • Setting priorities
  • Time management
  • Handling stress
  • Food preparation (even in a dorm, you can cook a little)
  • Managing money
  • Caring for clothes (remember, dorms are TINY and you will be bringing a fraction of what you own)
  • Being responsible for your own health
  • Navigating the campus and surrounding area
  • Conflict resolution

Independence Skills

  • Navigate community (public transportation or driving, read a map/GPS, know local landmarks)
  • Use ATM/credit/debit card
  • Ask for help
  • Learn skills needed to gain and keep employment
  • Explore options for post secondary education
  • Explore hobbies and build friendships
  • Maintain self-care, health and hygiene
  • Use technology safely
  • Cooking skills
  • Restaurant ordering and shopping
  • Make and keep appointments


Job & Volunteering Skills
Every job will require its own unique skillset so the skills your child will need for potential jobs should be addressed in the transition IEP and pre-taught in school and home to ensure an easier transition to the workplace. But most jobs have a few things in common. Some great examples of skills to work on are:

  • Typing
  • Counting money
  • Alphabetizing
  • Cleaning
  • Filing
  • Asking for help
  • Greeting strangers
  • Answering questions
  • Sorting
  • Reading signs to navigate store/office

More on Volunteering Opportunities for People with ASD


Examples of life skills curriculum, IEP goals and samples:

life skills charthttps://www.calcareercenter.org/Uploads/Links/Essential%20Life%20Skills%20for%20all%20TeensR.pdf

http://www.psesd.org/UserFiles/File/Special_Services/Life Skills Curriculum_Guide.pdf










Steps to Independence: Teaching Everyday Skills to Children With Special Needs by Bruce L. Baker & Alan J. Brightman


Related Teenagers with ASD Articles

Volunteering Opportunities for People With ASD

Teens - Introduction and Article Links

Teens - Social Skills

Teens - Life Skills

Teens - Puberty: What to Expect, Seizures, Anxiety, Sexuality

Teens - Biomed with an Older Child

Teens - How to Start the GFCFSF Diet with an Older Child

Teens - Self-Advocacy and Self-Esteem

Teens - Keeping Your Teen Safe

Teens - Transition IEPs

Teens - Testing for Adolescents

Teens - Extracurricular Activities

Teens - Driving

Teens - Siblings

Teens - Preparing for College

Teens - Been There, Done That: Advice from Parents