What are Life Skills in Special Education?
What Are Life Skills? Life skills must be taught to students in special education to help them become independent and successful. Life skills instruction combines academic, daily living, occupational, and interpersonal skills to teach students how to live and work in the community. Trying to find time in our busy school day to fit in these lessons can be difficult at times but we can try and practice them at school and home to work towards independence!
Why are Life Skills Important for Special Needs Students?
Life skills are essential for students with special needs. Independence has always been something that I strive for with my students and we focus on functional skills for that reason. I do not want my students being prompt dependent or never able to do anything on their own. My goal for them is to be functioning members in the community to their best capability.
5 Important Life Skills in Special Education
Life skills should be taught in a combination of settings. Some need to be worked on at home, such as putting dishes in the sink after a meal, taking a shower or getting dressed. Brushing teeth is an important one that students can work on in both the home and school settings. When we are able to, we also take Community-Based Instruction (CBI) trips to places in the community. With my high schoolers, we might do things such as learn how to order at a restaurant, go grocery shopping for a meal or learn how to complete paperwork at the doctor's office. To practice social skills and money skills, one year we even went so far as to start a school-based business.
1. Teach Coping Strategies for Stress
Students will always face challenges and stress both in school and in the “real word” after school. Teaching them the strategies that they need to cope are one of the most important life skills in special education, in my opinion. One of the first things that students need to have a concrete understanding of when teaching this, is their emotions. I use the Coping with Stress Unit from the Functional Life Skills Curriculum to teach them to label each emotion as well as ideas for things they can do when they are having a more negative emotion such as angry, sick or sad.
2. Teach Functional Hygiene Skills
Teaching functional hygiene skills to students should probably be at the TOP of the list. Students must learn how to clean their bodies and take care of their hygiene needs. I always tell them, no one wants to be around someone smelly! More than that, teaching skills such as washing hands and brushing teeth helps prevent germs during sick season and tooth decay. I have a FREE adapted book on washing hands that you can grab here. In addition I use the Personal Care and Hygiene Unit from the Functional Life Skills Curriculum to teach all about this life skill.
3. Teach Social Skills
Teaching social skills is always another main priority in my special education classroom. Again, if we want our students to be functional members in the community, then they have to have the proper tools and etiquette needed. Socially interacting with other peers and adults is a huge life skill that must be worked on. I'm talking about even simple things such as looking at people when responding to them or greeting them, having a back and forth conversation, asking for help and using manners. Good social skills can really go a long way. This is how you make and keep friends and even get a job in the community. I have an entire social skills unit that I work on with my students to practice these skills all year.
4. Teach Students How to do Tasks Independently
Having students that work independently in special education can sometimes be no easy task. However, it is an important functional skill to teach kids. If we didn't ever let a student do anything by themselves, it would be really difficult to run a classroom with all of the different needs and levels that we are meeting. I have always been a big fan of using independent work systems in my classroom. These are tasks that are at the students level that are hands on that they need to complete in order independently. There are tons of benefits of implementing independent work systems in your special education classroom. This promotes stamina, decreases prompt dependence and increases problem solving. You can grab a FREE INDEPENDENT WORK SYSTEM STARTER KIT HERE!
5. Teach Students All About Money
I love to work on academics along with functional life skills. Teaching students all about money during math is one example. Money is something that they will use for the rest of their lives so they should have a strong understanding of it. With elementary students, you can easily teach students to identify all of the coins and their amounts and even how to add some money amounts together. In high school, we work a lot more on the Dollar Up Method (this is especially useful when we go on community trips), making change and balancing our bank account. You can teach all about the basics of money using the money unit from the Functional Life Skills Curriculum.