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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Special-Ism’s Q & A: Teaching Life Skills to Your Special Needs Child

From Special-Ism.com - Reach Your Child's Potential with Professional Insights

By Danette Schott, M.A.
July 3, 2012

One of our readers wrote in,

“Can you recommend basic life skills training programs for children 3-10 with cognitive deficits?”

Special-Ism reached out for professional insight from our team of writers who are knowledgeable on this topic to help address this challenge. Each offers a unique response. In conclusion, we reference articles from a number of our Special-Ism writers that focus on different life skills.

Rich Korb, M.Ed., author of Motivating Defiant and Disruptive Students to Learn: Positive Classroom Management Strategies, suggests programing that features “Adults who can provide firm, fair and purpose driven guidance to give the youngster invaluable life skills to become a successful adult.” Korb suggests, “Consistent implementation and defining of firm (authoritative), fair (benevolent), and purpose driven (self-starters) should be the foundation of any program designed for assisting youngsters.”

Jeff Moon, MFTI, a former behavior specialist with autistic children for A.B.C. Applied Behavior Consultants, suggests to first “…have a behavioral consultant observe the child, without interacting, during various school settings such as recess, lunch, and more than one class/teacher. Data should be collected and observations thoroughly recorded.” Moon also suggests that clinicians in charge of a program, “…might need to adapt to sensory issues, which can cause children to avoid certain activities because they are uncomfortable.” In the school setting, Moon advises, “… to carefully consider whether or not to push for getting/keeping child in mainstream classes. Parents often feel that mainstream is better, but it can actually be detrimental to some children, impeding their learning.”

Judy Endow, MSW, author and international speaker on a variety of autism-related topics, and an adult with autism, thoughtfully compiled comprehensive insights. Endow explains, “Due to the diagnostic core deficits of ASD most children will not automatically pick up, learn and refine many adaptive skills merely by being present as part of the fabric of life in their world. Instead, they will need direct teaching of many life skills as they grow up and into adulthood. There are many such wonderful programs that are designed to assist in delivering this direct instruction both on specific skills and more comprehensive programs that teach several skills, usually using the same format. Additionally, there are often social skills groups available in many communities.

The most important thing to remember is that as a parent YOU are your child’s most important teacher and everyday ordinary life is the most important ‘learning lab’ for a myriad of life skills training! It all depends on you seizing the moment and using it as an opportunity for direct instruction. Here are some ideas to keep in mind:

Allow Extra Time: It takes time to use ordinary moments as opportunities for direct instruction. If your child has processing delays, difficulty regulating sensory input or struggles with maintaining behavior you can know it is only reasonable that life in general will simply take more time. Build in additional time so you won’t feel rushed. Perhaps add 15 minutes to the time your errand will take so as to allow for direct instruction on some aspect of that errand.

Start Out With a Well Regulated Child: An autism neurology means intentionality must be brought to sensory regulation. The sensory system does not automatically do this for a child with autism. Your child may either need extra, intentional sensory input or may need a quiet time to withdraw from a world where sensory input becomes overwhelming. Intentionally provide a sensory regulation opportunity (Endow, 2011) before taking your child out into the ‘learning lab’ of the community.

In the video below, Endow explains sensory regulation:

Live Out Loud: This is a strategy that involves talking through what you are doing. It is designed to facilitate problem solving and to better understand and be more successful in everyday life (Myles, et.al., 2006). For example, when pulling into a parking space at the grocery store you could “live out loud” how you plan to find the car when the shopping is finished by saying, ‘How will I find the car when we come out of the store? We are parked in the first row of cars next to the cart return.’

Something For The List: I developed this strategy to help sort out what was ok to say and what wasn’t ok to say when in public. There are two columns to this list – 1.) OK to think, but wait to say until I get home and 2.) OK to say in public. If you merely tell your child with ASD not to say certain things you will have a job for many years! Instead, if you give him a way to sort out for himself when he can say what, over time you can work yourself out of this job! When kids are visual thinkers, it is a great help to have a visual place to put their thoughts if they are too inhibit saying them. This actual list is a great place for that!

Use Special Interests: Pair one of your child’s high interest areas with a new skill to learn. Everybody is more motivated and finds learning more enjoyable when a favorite topic is part of the learning. For example, when teaching my son how to do laundry, I started with teaching him how to wash his baseball uniform. This involved sorting (navy, blue and white were the team colors), bleach use, stain removal, figuring out load size, line drying vs. using the dryer and even came to include thoughtfulness of family members, as we increased the size of the two loads to include team color articles of clothing the rest of us might wear to his game!

Use a Road Map: If your child wants to do something, but doesn’t yet have the skills, map it out for him by making a visual road map of how to get there. For example, if your child wants a cell phone, draw a line (road) across a piece of paper and put a cell phone at the end of the line. You can use a picture or use words if your child is a reader. Here is the list of the specific skills from one 10-year-old child’s road map to getting a cell phone:
  • Dial (or ring up since dialing went out with rotary phones each family member with mom’s help;
  • Dial each family member by myself, have the conversation starter ready to use before dialing;
  • Make a list of examples of things people say when they want the conversation to end for role playing (role play with mom);
  • Learn and practice three ways to end a phone call;
  • Practice phone calls with mom;
  • Make a list of phone numbers of people you will call with your cell phone;
  • Choose the color of your phone (red, blue, silver, black).

Endow, J. (2011). Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go!Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Adreon, D. & Gitlitz, D. (2006). Simple Strategies That Work! Helpful Hints for All Educators of Students With Asperger Syndrome, High-Functioning Autism, and Related Disabilities. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Special-Ism Articles

From the Library at Special-Ism, you can find ideas on how to handle life skills in general:

Gavin Bollard in Teaching Basic Life Skills to your Special Needs Children provided three basic steps that can be used to teach a variety of life skills to your child.

In Last is First in Backward Chaining I explained how some basic life skills, such a learning to tie shoes, can be taught using a method called backward chaining.

For tips on how to handle some specific life skills, check out these great reads from Special-Ism Writers:

Different Concepts, including matching, the alphabet, currency, time, math, writing, science, vocabulary, categories, etc.: File Folder Activities for Children with Autism by Joanna L. Keating-Velasco
Teaching and reinforcing these skills is not always easy. In Change is Good! Token Economy Systems Bring Positive Rewards, Joanna Keating-Velasco describes how to use behavior modification to obtain the desired result and in A Hunting We Will Go! Scavenger Hunts for Learning, she explains how to use a scavenger hunt approach to encourage your child to go beyond his/her comfort zone.