Teaching Dressing Skills to Students with Autism

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

Students with autism often struggle with basic self-help skills such as independent dressing. If you need to teach dressing skills, check out this lesson for ideas to get you started.

Independent Living Skills

For students with autism, many basic tasks can prove quite challenging. There are times when it is appropriate for a school program to address these basic tasks, such as when the inability to perform the tasks inhibit a student's ability to participate fully in the school environment.

Dressing skills, at first glance, may sound like an issue for home. But consider the dressing done at school - students need to manage their jackets and outerwear and manage their clothing when they use the toilet, and they may want to be able to remove or replace a sweater if they get hot or cold. Independent performance of these tasks increases a student's quality of life and school participation. Let's look at some methods for teaching dressing skills.

Task Analysis

Task analysis involves breaking larger tasks into their component skills and teaching each skill in isolation; then putting the skills back together in sequence to achieve the full task. Task analysis is an excellent way to approach dressing skills.

Breaking Down the Task

Identify the target dressing task, then identify the component skills. Let's look at putting on a shirt or sweatshirt. This task includes:

  • recognizing the top, bottom, front and back of the shirt.
  • putting the shirt over the head.
  • putting arms in sleeves.
  • straightening the shirt to cover the body.

Each of these skills should be individually taught.

Putting the Skills Together

When the individual steps are mastered, it's time to put them together. You may want to provide the student with step-by-step visual cues. See the illustration for an example.

This is one possible way to provide students with visual cues for the task of putting on a shirt.
visual cues

Begin by giving the student full support, then fade your prompting to allow the student fuller independence.

Other Considerations

Here are a few other considerations as you prepare to teach dressing skills.

Generalization of Skills

Students should be taught a specific dressing skill using one type of clothing first until they are able to master that clothing item. For example, practice putting on shirts using the same sweatshirt until the student masters that, then generalize the skill to other types of shirts.


Clothing fasteners are a very important part of dressing skills. You can teach students how to use fasteners such as zippers, snaps, and buttons in isolation before they use them on clothing. There are a variety of tools students can use to practice fasteners, such as puzzles, doll clothes, and dressing boards. There are commercially available options, and it is also possible to create your own!

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