Teaching Life Skills to People with Intellectual Disabilities

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Training in life skills is one of the important interventions for people with intellectual difficulties. Life skills include self care skills such as eating, dressing and bathing, as well as other daily living skills like shopping, banking, phone use and housekeeping. Being independent in these skills enables a person to live independently. Here are some techniques and strategies used for teaching life skills to people with intellectual disabilities.

Task Analysis and Chaining:

Task analysis is a method of breaking up a task into small components according to its sequence. Chaining is a method where each of these steps are taught in a sequential manner and practiced. In forward chaining, the client is taught the first step and he does it independently, and the therapist does the rest of the steps. Next, the client does the first two steps, and the therapist does the rest. In this manner, the client learns the task one step at a time. In backward chaining, the client is taught the last step first. The therapist does the task and the client completes it with the last step. Chaining, is a good method to teach life skills, and can be used with positive reinforcement strategies.

Role Play:

Role play is a method where the client is given a chance to “act out” and practice real life situations. The therapist and the client practice various social situations using this technique. It helps the client gain confidence to handle the same situations in real life.

Practicing in Real Situations:

Many studies have shown that life skills training in real life situations is the most effective. This is also because people with intellectual difficulties may struggle with generalization. In this method, the client is taken to a real life situation, like the shopping mall, or the post office where he is asked to do a task. The therapist or trainer goes with the client and prompts him whenever required. After a couple of times, the client may be confident to do the task without support.

Use of Social Stories:

Social stories are pictorial stories that depict life situations and people. They can be used to discuss various aspects of life skills, including the right way to respond in a situation. Social stories can be used to teach social skills, as well as skills related to ways to respond in an emergency situation and safe behaviors. Social stories can also be used to motivate a client to be independent.


A number of studies have shown that special groups to teach life skills are effective. When clients with similar difficulties are put together in a group and taught together, they tend to motivate each other. Clients may also enjoy the social interaction and may learn better. Groups also give an opportunity to the therapist to work on social interaction skills that are required for independence in life skills. However, group therapy must be conducted by a trained therapist experienced in leading and guiding clients in groups.

Thus, these are some techniques and strategies used for teaching life skills to people with intellectual disabilities. For information on a curriculum for life skills training, read this.