Teens with ASD: Life Skills

November 14th, 2015

The future depends on what we do in the present. - Mahatma Gandhi

I asked parents of older teens and adults (link below) what advice they had for parents of tweens and one resounding concern kept coming back: “Academics are nice, but if your kid can’t function in the real world, he’s in trouble, so teach life skills.”

Here is the critical piece though – YOU must teach life skills to your child. Yes, the school or a therapist can help, but unless you are consistent with your child 24/7 about learning and using these skills everywhere you go, then they won’t stick. Always remember that life skills must be functional and stick to be useful.

Why are life skills so important?

  • Safety: People who cannot care for themselves are more open to abuse and neglect by caretakers.
  • Self-esteem: Self-esteem comes from achievement and ability. Teens who can do things to help themselves are more empowered and happier. Self-reliant people don’t have to wait for others to do for them, and they can choose to do things their way.
  • Health: Kids who can feed, clean, clothe themselves and take care of their own basic needs will live a healthier life.
  • Independence: Greater independence leads to more living and work options, beyond a maximum-care facility. The more skills teens develop, the more options they have for housing and work. For example, if your teen isn't toilet trained and can't do basic self-care, there will only be one type of housing he can go into. There is no guarantee that placement would be good, but you'd be left with no other options.
  • Self-advocacy: Teens who can care for themselves and communicate needs and preferences can also have a larger say in their own lives. Creating and accomplishing dreams is something all people strive for, regardless of disability.
  • Self-regulation: Learning to manage stress, anxiety and feelings is a very important life skill and will help your teen to cope with the rigors of daily life.


What are life skills?

Basic living skills are laundry, cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, shaving, personal hygiene, shopping, ordering at a restaurant, paying bills, working, taking vitamins or pills, making healthy choices, exercise, self-advocacy, navigating the community, and making and keeping friends. Some life skills overlap with social skills, and both are necessary to live a safe, fulfilling life.

How can you know what your child needs to learn? Assessments like the ABLLS and VB-MAPP can be used to find out where your child's strengths and weaknesses lie and show you what skills need to be taught to fill in the gaps.

How to teach life skills

Here is an article on how to teach a skill step-by-step. There are many books and a few websites available but there are also curriculum and therapists or teachers who already teach these skills. You can use teachers or therapists to teach the skill but if you do, you need to also learn what they are teaching and how they are teaching it, so you can follow through at home.

How do you teach a child to do basic life skills tasks? Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Every task has steps to it, and just like any ABA or Discrete Trial drill, you just need to break down the task into tiny bits and teach each bit separate and then together. Some kids do better with photos of each step, some with written word. We used both - photos with the written description under the picture. Learn more here.

Life skill examples

Personal care skills

  • Shaving
  • Bathing/showering
  • Putting on deodorant
  • Brushing hair
  • Brushing teeth
  • Washing face
  • Dressing (picking out clothes that are seasonally appropriate, putting them on independently)
  • Nail care
  • Genital care

Food preparation skills

  • Bake
  • Blend
  • Boil
  • Broil
  • Chiffonade
  • Chop
  • Cut
  • Flip
  • Fry
  • Grate
  • Julienne
  • Macerate
  • Make a slurry
  • Measure
  • Peel
  • Proof
  • Read a recipe
  • Sauté
  • Shred
  • Squeeze
  • Steam
  • Stir
  • Wash dishes
  • Whisk
  • Zest

Read more at http://www.tacanow.org/family-resources/asd-teens-cooking-class/

Safety skills
ASD kids need to develop a variety of safety skills, including swimming, internet safety, eloping/wandering, bullying, and personal safety.

Making sure your teen is in a safe environment, even at work or volunteering, is paramount. Unlike schools, employers may not do background screening checks on other employees. If your teen will be left alone with any staff, make sure the people invovled are properly screened and trained.

More information on safety issues, skills and background checks is at http://www.tacanow.org/family-resources/keeping-your-kids-with-asd-safe/
College skills
Some basic life skills are needed to live on campus. Work them into IEPs, starting with your Transition IEP.

  • Setting priorities
  • Time management
  • Handling stress
  • Food preparation (even in a dorm, you can cook a little)
  • Managing money
  • Caring for clothes
  • Taking responsibility for health
  • Navigating the campus and surrounding area
  • Conflict resolution


Independence skills

  • Navigating the community (public transportation or driving, reading a map/GPS, recognizing local landmarks)
  • Using an ATM/credit/debit card
  • Asking for help
  • Getting and keeping a job
  • Exploring options for post-secondary education
  • Exploring hobbies and building friendships
  • Self-care, health and hygiene
  • Using technology safely
  • Cooking
  • Restaurant ordering and shopping
  • Making and keeping appointments


Job and volunteering skills
Every job will require its own skill set. The skills your child will need for potential jobs should be addressed in the transition IEP and pre-taught in school and at home to ensure an easier transition to the workplace. Most jobs have a few things in common. Some great examples of skills to work on are:

  • Typing
  • Counting money
  • Alphabetizing
  • Cleaning
  • Filing
  • Asking for help
  • Greeting strangers
  • Answering questions
  • Sorting
  • Reading signs to navigate store/office

More on Volunteering Opportunities for People with ASD

Examples of life skills curriculum, IEP goals and samples:

life skills charthttps://www.calcareercenter.org/Uploads/Links/Essential%20Life%20Skills%20for%20all%20TeensR.pdf










Steps to Independence: Teaching Everyday Skills to Children With Special Needs by Bruce L. Baker & Alan J. Brightman

Related Teenagers with ASD Articles

Volunteering Opportunities for People With ASD

Teens - Introduction and Article Links

Teens - Social Skills

Teens - Life Skills

Teens - Puberty: What to Expect, Seizures, Anxiety, Sexuality

Teens - Biomed with an Older Child

Teens - How to Start the GFCFSF Diet with an Older Child

Teens - Self-Advocacy and Self-Esteem

Teens - Keeping Your Teen Safe

Teens - Transition IEPs

Teens - Testing for Adolescents

Teens - Extracurricular Activities

Teens - Driving

Teens - Siblings

Teens - Preparing for College

Teens - Been There, Done That: Advice from Parents

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