ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Life Skills and Autism

Updated on January 16, 2018

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability, which impacts an individual's communication, social skills and behaviour to varying degrees.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2012 that 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder, based on data collected between 2000–2008.

While many of these individuals will develop the necessary skills to live independently and gain employment later in life, some will require support throughout their lives.

Teaching important life skills as early as possible to all individuals with autism can help ensure their best chance of a full, productive and happy life in the future.

My son, who happens to have autism.
My son, who happens to have autism. | Source

Life Skills

There are many different skills that can be considered life skills. Typically, especially in a school setting, the phrase "life skills" is synonomous with "independent living skills."

For a young child, these include:

  • feeding himself
  • getting dressed independently
  • brushing his teeth or hair
  • washing his hands
  • independent toileting
  • being safe in the community

For older individuals with an autism spectrum disorder, functional life skills may include:

  • telling time
  • grocery shopping
  • preparing a snack
  • cooking a meal
  • taking the bus
  • ordering a meal in a restaurant
  • shaving
  • doing laundry
  • making a phone call
  • managing money
  • filling out a job application

Life skills, in a broader sense, also includes things such as social and interpersonal skills, communication, leisure and play skills and pre-vocational and vocational skills. All of these play an important role in an individual's ability to interact with others, be as independent as possible and reach his full potential in society.

Telling time is an important life skill.
Telling time is an important life skill. | Source

Strategies for Teaching Life Skills to Children with Autism

There are a number of strategies that can be used by parents, teachers, EAs, therapists and others who are working with a child with autism, to teach functional life skills.

It is important to remember that many individuals with autism require very structured teaching, and repetition is critical whenever you are teaching a new skill. A skill that a typical child might need to have demonstrated a few times before they learn it may take hundreds of repetitions for a child on the autism spectrum.

Task Analysis: This is the process of breaking down a task into small specific steps and teaching one step at a time until the task is learned. For example, washing hands can be taught as separate steps of: turn on the water, wet hands, put soap on hands, rub hands together, rinse soap off hands, turn off water, dry hands.

Forward or Backward Chaining: Used in conjunction with task analysis, chaining involves a systematic approach of focusing on one step in the task many times with a child, until they are able to complete it without prompting or assistance, and then adding the second step to the process. This is repeated, adding one additional step each time, until eventually the child is able to complete the whole chain of steps independently. Teaching can be done by starting with the first step (forward chaining) or the final step (backward chaining).

Whenever possible, visual cues and reminders should be used to reinforce the steps being taught. Most individuals with autism are visual learners and these visual cues provide an easy way of helping them to stay on track with tasks. Even after a skill is learned, visual cues serve as a helpful reminder to many individuals with autism, and can help increase their independence and reduce frustration and anxiety.

Positive reinforcement is often used when teaching new skills to children with autism. For instance, they may be rewarded with a preferred activity or small treat after they complete the necessary steps in a new task they are learning.

Once a skilled is learned, it is important to generalize that skill to other environments. For instance, a child with autism may learn how to wash his hands a certain way at home, but be thrown off when asked to do it at someone else's home. This can happen for any number of reasons that we might not even comprehend, such as the taps may be different, they may have bar soap instead of liquid soap, or the bathroom itself may be brighter and overstimulating to the child.

Tools to Teach Life Skills to Individuals with Autism

There are a number of tools which can help in your efforts to teach children and adults with autism important social skills and life skills. Some individuals will show a clear preference for one or two of these methods, while others will benefit from a multi-faceted approach to help reinforce learning.

Some of the most effective tools available are:

  • Video Modelling - Many individuals on the autism spectrum benefit from being able to watch a task being completed, and video modelling allows the individual to watch a sequence over and over to help reinforce the steps in their mind. Video modeling can be used for anything from routine tasks such as brushing your teeth, to preparing a meal or a trip to the dentist.
  • Pictures and Visual Aids - Most individuals with autism benefit from the use of visual schedules, and other visual cues. When teaching new tasks, a strip of pictures in a sequence that shows how the task should be completed is commonly used and helps reinforce the steps being taught.
  • Social Stories - It is often useful to make or use social stories to help children with autism understand a concept from their own point of view. For instance, if you are trying to teach a child about safety, you can write a social story, using actual pictures of the child, that talks about things such as "it is important that I hold an adult's hand when I am crossing the street. We need to look both ways to make sure there are no cars coming. This helps keep me safe."
  • iPad and iPhone Apps - The invention of the iPad has resulted in a tremendous advancement in developing new ways to teach individuals with autism. There are hundreds of apps that can help teach important communication and life skills, many of which incorporate tools such as video modelling, customized social stories and visual reminders.

Let's Cook! Life Skills for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

There are many important life skills that we all need to have to function effectively in society and be independent. Individuals with autism may take longer to learn many of these skills, and we may need to use many different techniques, strategies and tools to help reinforce our teaching. Every effort should be made to teach a variety of life skills, starting from young age, to help every individual with autism live a fulfilling life with as much independence as possible.

© 2012 Kathy Sima


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)