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Teaching Life Skills to Students With Special Needs

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 11/5/2012

Teaching life skills can cover a whole range of areas, so where do we start? This article provides some examples of the daily life skills you'll want your students to know.

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    Daily living skills cover many aspects of home and community functioning: these are all the skills which allow people to operate independently at home or in community settings, and to take control over their own lives. These tasks are relevant to many learner groups, including those with intellectual disabilities, and form an important part of the special ed program. Here are some examples:

    • Organizing appropriate clothing for the day's activities and expected weather.
    • Buying food for the week at the market or shopping center.
    • Washing a load of clothes.
    • Taking care of personal hygiene (showering, going to the bathroom, shaving, brushing teeth).
    • Paying bills (Check this article for more on teaching money management).
    • Organizing household chores (dusting, vacuuming, washing floors, cleaning the bathroom and toilet).
    • Putting out trash bins on the correct day and bringing them back in again.
    • Reading the local newspaper to find out what is happening in the community.
    • Cooking a meal using a simple recipe from a cook book.
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    Task Analysis for Teaching Daily Living Skills

    One of the most effective ways of teaching life skills to special needs learners is to complete a task analysis. For the life skills area, this means doing the following:

    1. Writing down the steps needed to complete a specific activity of daily living (for example, washing a load of clothes in the washing machine).
    2. Ordering the steps to complete the task in chronological order (so you can see sequentially how a task breaks up into its component parts).
    3. Assessing which parts of the task a student can already do in full without help.
    4. Assessing which parts of the task a student can do in part, or with some adult support (such as co-actively picking up clothes from the basket and placing them in an appropriate color pile).
    5. Teaching the stages of the task that a student cannot do prior to the teaching program beginning.
    6. Re-assessing and evaluating the program to check that your teaching has been effective and that learning has occurred.

    This task analysis approach makes it easy to set clear goals for teaching life skills to special needs learners, and for completing follow-up evaluations and assessment tasks as needed. It also means you can make choices about appropriate goals to include in an IEP or to set as additional home based priorities with family support.

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    Washing a Load of Clothes: A Life Skills Example

    Here's how it works for the skill of washing a load of clothing.

    Task stages based on task analysis:

    1. Bring laundry basket to laundry.
    2. Take clothing out of basket and place on floor.
    3. Sort clothing into piles of colored and whites / near whites.
    4. Open washing machine.
    5. Place one of the piles into the machine.
    6. Add laundry detergent.
    7. Turn machine on.
    8. Wait until machine has finished wash cycle then open machine.
    9. Take clothes out and check that they have washed correctly.
    10. Put clothes in the dryer select the appropriate setting and then start the drier, or hang clothes on clothes line outdoors to dry.
    11. After the drier has completed its cycle, put clothes in the laundry basket and fold, or, if you have hung them on the line, bring clothes back inside.

    As you can see, there are lots of stages in a complex task such as this one. It is important to break down the task into manageable parts, and to provide adult support as required to ensure the task is completed successfully. This life skills activity could link easily to various curriculum areas, such as English (reading tags on clothes, reading directions on washing powder, talking to others about the task), or Math (measuring detergent, reading dials and numbers on the washing machine, counting and sorting clothes, estimating space required on the line to hang out a load, timing how long it takes for a load of washing to be washed).

    So you can see, if you apply the task analysis method to teaching life skills to special needs learners, you can set achievable goals and ensure your special needs learners experience success both now and in the future.