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Teaching Crucial Functional Living Skills

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 1/7/2012

If you're teaching life skills to people with intellectual abilities then you will benefit from the information here. These tips and advice is written to help you to develop a plan that suits the needs of the students you teach or the people you serve.

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    Disabilities and Functional Living Skills

    There are different types of disabilities and each of these come with their own set of issues and limitations. While most students in special education need to learn life skills, teaching functional living skills to students with intellectual disabilities represents an altogether different challenge than teaching those with disabilities that may be emotional or behavioral. For instance, people with emotional and behavioral disorders may have no problem comprehending the teaching of various life skills but may neglect some of them due to their disabilities. Those with intellectual disabilities will need to have help comprehending various life skills before they ever get to actually utilize them.

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    Life Skills Needed

    Life skills that need to be taught are going to depend somewhat on the particular situation. For instance, if the individual lives in a rural area and plans to stay there, they may not need to have skills in utilizing public transportation while those that live in large cities will find this to be a critical skill that they will be using frequently. There are, however, certain life skills that need to be taught to everyone.

    Hygiene: The details of proper hygiene are going to need to be taught. This includes personal hygiene, maintenance of living quarters and may even include certain public mannerisms.

    Finances: Dealing with money is something that everyone needs to learn and can be a particular challenge for those with intellectual disabilities that extend to the processing of math equations. These life skills may include the handling of cash, managing of bank accounts and bills as well as creating a feasible household budget and dealing with taxes.

    Social skills: Though you might think that those with intellectual disabilities wouldn't need any coaching on social skills because that isn't part of the disability, you might consider how the very existence of the disability might impact their relationships. For instance, those with limited financial skills may be easily taken advantage of when it comes to their finances. They may even need to feel comfortable explaining the disability to potential friends or mates so that they can be better understood.

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    Teaching Tips

    Teaching functional living skills to students with disabilities can be a challenge and needs to be done in a way that they can understand and process. This means using common sense development and real life scenarios. Some of the tips below may help you to this end.

    Role play: The best way to develop life skills is to practice and repeat them. Role playing gives students a chance to act out scenarios that they may encounter in real life.

    Set up a financial program: Help students to create a complete financial profile. Create scenarios that involve paying the mortgage or rent, utility bills and dealing with banks, by doing things like writing checks. Create a weekly plan with set limits that will allow students to practice developing a budget based on set incoming and outgoing funds.

    Praise hygiene: Hygiene is a life skill that can be pretty easily taught to those with intellectual disabilities because it involves common sense. However, some issues may need to be addressed involving products and what they are used for and in what quantities they are used.

    Build on existing skills: Intellectual disabilities often come with heightened skills in areas involving common sense. When you explain life skills to these students, keep the terms simple and use common sense scenarios to help them to understand what they need to do. Using large words may confuse the student and put unnecessary pressure on them. Remember you are trying to educate them in life skills, not academic skills at this point.

    Create a life skills schedule: People with intellectual disabilities tend to thrive on schedules and repetition. They may have trouble creating a schedule, but once it's done they probably won't have any problem following it. These schedules should involve day to day activities and extend up to yearly activities, like filing taxes.

    Create a resource list: There may be times when the individual is incapable of performing a task. They need to know where to turn when this happens. Help them to create a simple comprehensive list of resources so that they can get help meeting their needs when the time comes.

    Remember when you are teaching functional living skills that you should focus on student's strengths and interests rather than focusing on weaker areas, such as cognitive abilities. Base your lessons on those skills and you will have taught these types of students to appreciate their own skill set and worth rather than focusing on areas that they are lacking in.