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Teaching Independent Living Skills to Disabled Students

written by: Sharon Dominica • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/11/2012

It is very important to teach independent living skills to children with disabilities. Starting early in life helps them to be motivated to do all their work independently. This article describes ideas for independent living skills lessons for students with disabilities.

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    What Are Independent Living Skills?

    Independent living skills are the skills that a person needs on a daily basis to live independently. They include self care skills like eating, dressing, bathing, toileting and grooming. They also include other skills like home management, cleaning, shopping, laundry, money management, medication management etc. An independent living skills curriculum will include all of these. Teaching independent living skills is a process that begins at birth and goes on till adulthood. Children with disabilities find these skills difficult to perform for various different reasons. However, they will require these skills to live independently. Even if they cannot live independently, being independent in self care will take a lot of burden off the caregivers. Thus, this is often the most important goal for a child with a disability. That is why it is so important to plan independent living skills lessons for students with disabilities. Here are some strategies you can use in your lessons to teach these skills.

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    Rewards:

    Give rewards to the child each time they perform a self care task, or a part of a task. Rewards can be edible, social rewards, activity rewards, material rewards or even privileges. Tokens are another way to teach and reinforce self care skills. Make a chart where you add a star everyday if the child has completed the task independently. At the end of the month, the child gets a reward based of the amount of stars they got. Different children benefit from different rewards depending on their level of understanding. Read and understand more about using rewards and other reinforcements.

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    Chaining:

    Forward Chaining

    Forward chaining is the process where you break up a task into small steps, and teach the first step. Then you get the child to do the first step, and you complete the rest of the task. Then you teach the second step. After that, you make the child do the first two steps and you complete the rest of the activity. Forward chaining is usually used to teach tasks where the last step is very difficult.

    Backward Chaining

    Backward chaining is the opposite of forward chaining. Here you teach the last step first, then the second last step and so on. So, you do all the steps except for the last step and get the child to do the last step. Backward chaining is more fun for the child, because it helps them feel that they completed the activity. It is used quite often in training of self care skills.

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    Repetition

    Repetition is one of the best ways to reinforce and learn a task. The best part about self care skills is that you need to do them every day, and often more than once in a day. Help the child practice his skills every single time he does that activity.

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    Shaping

    Shaping is when you reward and appreciate the child when they are approximately able to do the task. It means that you don’t look for perfection. If a child takes the comb to his head n moves the comb, you reward him and appreciate him for it. It’s ok if he can’t completely comb his hair, or even if he ends up messing up his hair. Shaping is used in the earlier stages of training.

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    Grading

    Grading is when you give a simple activity to start with, and slowly increase the complexity of the task. Some ideas for grading are – using a large comb, teaching buttoning on large buttons, teaching dressing with over-sized clothes.

    Continue on to page two for more independent living skills lessons for students with disabilities.

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    Adaptations

    Sometimes planning lessons or an independent living skills curriculum is not enough. Some children with special needs, especially children with physical disabilities may need to be taught an adapted way of performing the task. They may also benefit from some adaptive equipment. Some ideas and resources are given below.

    Adapting the environment

    Some adaptations in the environment that can help are a wheelchair accessible toilet, a bath chair, a low sink. Keeping the clothes and other belongings of the child at an accessible height will promote independence.

    Adapting the technique

    Sometimes, adapting the technique can help the child to be independent. For example, stabilizing forearms on the table before eating, or sitting down on the bed and putting on pants. An occupational therapist will be able to advise you on techniques based on the child’s needs.

    Adaptive equipment

    There are a lot of different adaptive equipment that can help a child with special needs to be independent. Modified spoons, long handled reachers and modified clothing are some examples.

    More resources on adapted self care

    http://www.disabledservicesclothing.com/- get ideas for adaptive clothing. This website also allows you to order and buy adaptive clothing

    http://www.bindependent.com/ - offers a wide range of adaptive equipment you can order online.

    http://www.visionaware.org - This site gives ideas for self care for people with visual impairment

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    Teaching Other Independent Living Skills

    Self care is just the beginning. As a child gets older, they need to learn and practice more complex skills that are needed for daily living. Here are some ideas you can use in your classroom for independent living skills lessons for students with disabilities.

    Role-play / pretend play

    Introduce different independent living skills through role play and pretend play. Shopping, cooking, cleaning are some of the skills that you can start with.

    Field trips

    Children with disabilities often don’t get to go out like other children. Take them on field trips to the doctor’s, the bank, and the grocery store to help them understand more about how things are done.

    Stories

    Talk about various independent living skills through stories. Use stories also to talk about work, different jobs, and the value of money. All this will help the child be motivated to be independent, get a job and support themselves when they grow up.

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    Teaching independent living skills lessons to students with disabilities is very important. However, you as a teacher cannot do this alone. Work with the parents and plan a specific task that you are both going to teach that week or month. Help parents learn techniques to teach the child at home. One step at a time the child will pick up new skills, and these will pave the way for independent living.