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What Life Skills Do Our Autistic Kids Need to Succeed?
At some point we all have to face our children growing up. For those of us with kids on the spectrum, this milestone can seem even more daunting. For some parents, even getting their kids into winter clothing can seem next to impossible, so teaching other life skills can seem overwhelming. Even the word “succeed” might be misleading. Each autistic child will have a different measure of success. For some, putting on clothing, remembering to eat, or simply being able to navigate daily tasks will be the goal. For others, it will be remembering to get to class, or performing tasks at their jobs. Now that my children are in their teens, I am starting to see some of the early work on life skills paying off in certain areas. In some areas, they might always need support (don’t we all?). Below is a helpful list of categories for the basic skills necessary to meet individual levels of success.
The Seven Categories of Life Skills Necessary For Success For Autistic People
- Executive Functioning Skills: These are organizational skills that are needed to plan the day, break down a task, create a “to do” list, and plan ahead for chores, outings etc…It will be an on-going process to build this skill, as it is something that is challenging for most of those on the spectrum. Michelle Garcia Winner, SLP, offers excellent advice and exercises to build executive functioning skills for high-functioning individuals through her Social Thinking Program. Her book: Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning, is a must have for any parent or caregiver for a child with autism.
- Practical Living Skills: These skills encompass finding information (internet, books, newspapers etc.), money skills (budgeting, bank accounts, credit cards, making change), travel (reading a map, using transportation, planning a trip), clothing (care, laundering, organizing), home care (garbage day, housecleaning, doing dishes) cooking, and shopping. One of the best ways to teach these skills is through involving your child in your daily routine, rather than doing everything for them. The earlier you include your child in activities such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry, the longer they have to develop comfort and routines in these important areas.
Superstore offers a cooking/shopping program for people with disabilities in Edmonton, AB. The program involves choosing a recipe, shopping for the groceries, then preparing the food. Check with your local grocery story, or kitchen shop to see if they offer (or are interested in offering) such a program. There are many resources available for segments of this kind of learning, please check our resources page for classes, courses, or support in your area.
- Personal Care: This would involve personal daily hygiene, exercise, nutrition, dealing with an illness such as a cold, and coping with stress. Create and rehearse relaxation routines, make task breakdown lists for showering, toileting or toothbrushing if steps are missed without prompting. Some of of my favourite resources for teaching hygiene to youth is are: 101 Tips for the Parents of Boys with Autism or 101 Tips for the Parents of Girls with Autism . If these don’t sound like what you are looking for, we have many many resources in our Life Skills Section of our store to check out. There is something for everyone.
- Job Skills: How do you look for a job? Create a resume? Get work experience? Be a good employee? A good place to start to gain job experience may be through volunteer work. If parents volunteer for an organization, take the child along too to gain some experience. My two children have shadowed me in the past at my volunteer position at our local farmer’s market. They will get to know the vendors which could perhaps lead to a job later on.Other volunteer avenues to try are through churches, sports clubs, Guides or Scouts, museums, parks and recreation, the library – the list is endless. Try to find a good fit with the child’s interests.
- Personal Safety: A tough topic to teach! Many children will memorize rules like don’t talk to strangers, but will not know when to break those rules if necessary. Under stress, some people lose their ability to speak. It may be a good idea to carry around a card with a few statements on it for those stressful moments when it can be hard to gather one’s thoughts. Teach what risks are, and how to avoid unsafe situations. For example, one rule may be not to use public transportation after dark if in a big city. Another may be not to do favours for an unfamiliar person. An excellent book to start off the topic with younger children is An Exceptional Children’s Guide to Touch: Teaching Social and Physical Boundaries to Kids. It has a number of short stories that illustrate different kinds of touch from accidental to friendly to harmful, and helps to illustrate appropriate boundaries.
- People Skills – This would fall under the topic of social skills. Areas that need to be developed are working in a group, making friends, asking for help, dealing with family relationships, communicating over the phone, conversation etc. Social skills is a broad topic. Although social rules and etiquette can be taught, if the child is high functioning enough, think about teaching flexibility in thinking and perspective taking. Good books for this are Teaching Your Child the Language of Social Success, Thinking About You, Thinking About Me, and Teaching Children with Autism to Mind Read.
- Self-Advocacy : A topic which is often forgotten, children need to be taught how to get their needs met effectively. They need to know how and when to ask questions, who to approach for help, when to give their opinion, and how to say no. I just wrote a blog post about how Judy Endow – one of my favourite authors on the spectrum – opened my eyes to what seems like an implicit problem of class for those with disabilities, that makes teaching self-advocacy more important than ever. Two books that do a great job of outlining how to provide your child with self-advocacy skills are: Ask And Tell, and Autism Life Skills: From Communication and Safety to Self-Esteem and More .
The acquisition of life skills is an on-going process. All skills take time to acquire and become fluent with. It is ideal to start working on all of these skills while the child still lives at home. Make sure your child’s school has a life skills program as this should be an integral part of every child’s education. My top recommended life skills books to start with for both teachers, therapists and parents are Darlene Mannix’s Life Skills Activities for Special Children or Life Skills Activities for Secondary Students with Special Needs and Tasks Galore for the Real World, suitable for ages 10 and up.
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