Life skills are how we navigate our daily, independent lives. They may include things like self-care, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and money management. They also include executive function tasks like decision-making, planning, organizing, and making choices. We learn life skills over time, from toddlerhood through adolescence and adulthood.

Beginning to develop life skills at a young age for a child with autism can be essential to their long-term success and independence. Children with autism can participate in life skills classes to learn and practice skills in a safe, instructor-led environment. An important aspect of teaching life skills is learning the skill in the environment in which it is going to be used, meaning teaching cooking in a kitchen or doing laundry in a laundry room or laundromat.

Having specific skills presented as pictures or charts can be beneficial, including a breakdown of all the steps associated with each individual skill. This visual aid guides the child through a task that may seem daunting, like doing the dishes. These visual aids can also be presented as checklists and posted in the area where the skill will happen, i.e. a breakdown of what to do when waking up, like brushing your teeth and getting dressed. This can be a helpful addition to any social skills visual aid you may already have.

Life skills teaching can complement social skills teaching, which is focused on the behaviors and practices of interpersonal interactions. This teaching generally starts with a smaller, foundational skill for the child to work on and then gradually works up to more complex skills, like a back-and-forth conversation. These same principles can be applied when teaching life skills. Learning social and life skills go hand in hand to nurturing a child’s independence and autonomy.

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