Life Skills to Teach Kids with Autism
As a special education teacher for elementary-aged students with autism, your role is not only to educate but also to prepare them for life beyond the classroom. One of the most important ways to do this is by teaching them essential life skills that will help them become more independent and successful adults. From chores and money management to personal hygiene and communication skills, there are countless life skills that you can teach your students. By providing them with the knowledge and tools to navigate everyday situations, you can empower them to lead fulfilling lives and achieve their full potential. In this blog post, we will explore ten life skills that you can teach your students with autism and how to use certain resources to make lessons more structured and interactive around this topic.
1. Doing things Independently
The most important life skill in my book is always independence. I strived for this so much in my autism classroom. When students can do things independently, they develop problem-solving abilities, critical thinking skills and the capacity to make informed decisions. They learn to manage their time effectively, set goals, and prioritize tasks. Independence also cultivates a sense of accountability and responsibility, as students take ownership of their work and outcomes. In addition, it prepares students for the work force one day in the hopes that they will be employed somewhere and can work independently. No matter what the level of independence looks like-we must teach students some independent skills. My favorite way to do this is through independent work stations in the classroom.
Next, teaching students about money skills is extremely important. Money will always be a part of their life, especially as they grow into adulthood. You can teach your students about different coins and bills and how to identify them (try using these life skills worksheets) You can also teach how to make simple purchases using money, depending on age and ability. In addition, you can use hands-on activities like playing store or counting money to make the concept more concrete. I always start with the goal of coin identification and then move on to more difficult skills such as adding money amounts together and the dollar up strategy. You can take money skills to the next level by taking your students on community-based instruction (or CBI) shopping trips or role-playing different scenarios within the classroom. We have gone grocery shopping and to fast food restaurants to practice using our money skills out in the community.
3. Personal Hygiene
Teaching personal hygiene is essential for children with autism to learn self-care and social acceptance. In my autism classroom, we worked hard to reinforce proper hygiene habits like brushing teeth and washing hands, grooming and dressing appropriately. By focusing on each aspect of personal hygiene, you can empower your students to take care of themselves and navigate social situations with confidence. You can also use role-playing activities and social stories to help your students understand why hygiene is important and how to practice good hygiene habits in different situations.
4. Time Management
Use visual supports like simple schedules and timers to teach students about time and routines is definitely beneficial. You can also use hands-on activities like setting timers for different tasks or practicing time estimation to make the concept more concrete. Teaching your students how to manage their time effectively can help them feel more in control of their day and reduce anxiety and stress.
Teaching communication skills is essential for young students to express themselves and navigate social situations. Use visual aids, social stories, games and role-playing activities to teach communication skills like taking turns, asking for help and expressing feelings. You can also work on building vocabulary and sentence structure to help your students communicate more effectively.
There are many reasons why it is important to teach about cooking with your autism class. First and foremost, cooking empowers children with autism to become more independent and develop essential life skills. By learning to prepare meals, they gain a sense of self-sufficiency and confidence in their abilities. Cooking teaches them to plan and organize their tasks, make choices about ingredients, measure quantities and follow instructions. These skills are transferable to other areas of their lives, fostering independence in self-care, meal planning, and overall daily routines.In addition, it promotes sequencing and fine motor skills. Finally, many children with autism can experience sensory difficulties. Cooking exposes them to a variety of sensory experiences, including touching, smelling and tasting different ingredients. Engaging in food preparation allows them to explore sensory input in a structured and controlled environment, gradually increasing their tolerance and acceptance of different textures, smells, and tastes. Try using these Life Skills Kitchen Vocabulary Task Boxes when focuses on a cooking unit.
Teaching cleaning skills and chores is another wonderful life skill to teach because it promotes independence and responsibility in your students. To teach cleaning skills effectively, break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps and provide visual aids such as task lists or schedules. Start by introducing basic cleaning concepts such as tidying up personal spaces in the classroom, organizing belongings and putting items in designated places such as folders and backpacks. You can create visual reminders and labels to help students remember where items belong and encourage them to keep their surroundings neat and orderly. For example, if you have a free choice toy shelf in your classroom, label the bins with pictures of what toys go in each bin so they can easily clean up independently.
8. Self Advocacy
Teaching self-advocacy skills is crucial for empowering elementary-aged students with autism to express their needs, make choices, and advocate for themselves in various settings. These skills promote self-confidence, autonomy and effective communication. Start by teaching students to identify and understand their own emotions, preferences and strengths. Use resources like social stories, role-playing scenarios, or visual supports to help them recognize and label their feelings and express them appropriately. Support students in developing self-advocacy skills by fostering a collaborative and inclusive classroom environment. Encourage active participation, offer choices whenever possible and value their input.
9. Personal Safety
Teaching personal safety skills is essential for students to navigate their environment confidently and stay safe in various situations. Focus on teaching them basic safety rules and strategies that they can apply both at home and in the community. For instance, you can teach them about road safety, including looking both ways before crossing the street and understanding traffic signals. Additionally, teach them how to respond to emergencies by practicing dialing emergency numbers and identifying safe places in their surroundings. Use visual supports, social stories and role-playing activities to help reinforce safety concepts and make them more concrete. Some different resources I use to teach this life skill are Community Signs Vocabulary and the All About Me Personal Information Game.
Developing problem-solving skills equips students with autism to effectively tackle challenges and find solutions independently. Introduce problem-solving strategies such as identifying the problem, brainstorming possible solutions, considering the consequences of each option, and selecting the most appropriate solution. Encourage students to break down complex problems into smaller, manageable parts to facilitate problem-solving. Use real-life scenarios or hypothetical situations to engage students in critical thinking and decision-making processes. Celebrate their problem-solving successes to boost their confidence and motivation.
Teaching Life Skills is Important
Teaching life skills is an important part of helping children with autism become more independent. By teaching them the life skills above, you are helping them to live a life as a successful community member.