Important Life Skills to Teach Your Child with Special Needs
A parent is the first teacher a child will have. We may start out by trying to teach them how to say “mama” or “dada”, or to identify when they want something. Later, we encourage them to crawl, walk, run, use the bathroom, use a fork and knife, bathe, ride a bicycle, brush their hair, get dressed, and other basic life skills. As they progress through the years, other essential life skills come into play. For a parent of a child with special needs, some of these skills may never be a reality. However, with patience, preparation, and perseverance, you may find that your child can learn life skills that you didn’t think possible.
It is often hard to imagine every task that a child must learn in order to achieve independence – whether living on one’s own or just being able to function in some way by his or herself. Skills such as grocery shopping, preparing meals, washing dishes, paying bills, coping with stress, and so many more can seem mind-boggling if we attempt them all at once.
Today, many parents often feel as though they are fighting an uphill battle just trying to teach their children everything they need to know before they leave home for college. So many times, actions are left untaught because the subject has never arisen. Learning how to pay a bill, book a flight or hotel, completing a W4 tax form, or applying for a credit card may seem monumental when the child has never undertaken that responsibility. For a child with special needs, many of the smaller tasks we take for granted reach that monumental status. No parent can ever anticipate everything his or her child will need to learn before heading out into the world (or even to nursery school for that matter). That is why a parent’s job as teacher never ends–no matter what our children might think.
Adaptive Living Skills vs. Life Skills: What Is the Difference?
You may hear the terms adaptive living skills (ADL’s) and life skills and not know the difference. ADL’s are the first skills most people teach their children and include activities such as:
- Using the bathroom
- Taking a bath or shower
- Washing hands before eating
- Making a bed
- Putting on clothes
- Tying shoelaces
- Brushing or combing hair
- Using a fork, spoon, and knife
- Brushing teeth
Children often learn these skills through a combination of imitating their parents, basic instruction, encouragement, and, yes, mistakes. A child with special needs may have a harder time learning some of these skills. Developmental delays can render the “typical” timeline useless. Your child may not be able to develop imitation skills in the same way, or at all. Instead, you will have to learn to take your cues from your child as to what he or she is ready to learn.
Life skills are more in line with following a routine, maintaining a clean home, doing laundry, balancing a bank account, paying bills, catching a bus, or performing a job. Learning how to communicate and maintain social relationships also falls into this category.
Why Teaching Life Skills to a Child with Special Needs May be Challenging
Some children with special needs learn differently or at a slower pace than their peers. Others may be physically unable to perform certain skills. Every child is unique, and the approach to teaching life skills will require personalization to the child’s capabilities.
Challenges a parent may face include:
- Slow or impaired physical development
- Difficulty in understanding or following directions
- Lack of awareness
- Easily frustrated or acting out when it does not work
- No desire to learn or accomplish tasks
- Cognitive or sensory challenges
- Lack of focus for extended times
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