Teaching Life Skills to Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

Are you looking for fun and exciting ways to teach life skills to your students with intellectual disabilities? This lesson will provide specific lesson ideas for doing just that, as well as on overview of important life skills!

What Are Life Skills?

Life skills are the abilities you need to live independently as an adult! In addition to helping us live independently, life skills also serve to help us achieve our goals and enrich our quality of life.

Example life skills for students include:

  • Tying shoelaces
  • Driving a car
  • Using a computer
  • Writing a check
  • Filling out job applications
  • Registering to vote
  • Preparing a meal

How Can I Teach Life Skills?

Life skills are best taught through a combination of direct instruction, modeling, and opportunities for hands-on practice. Consider the following tips when teaching life skills:

  • Break down large tasks into small manageable tasks. For instance, to teach students how to grocery shop, first teach them how to make a grocery list before moving on to how to shop and how to budget for groceries. Small units can be presented in separate lessons, if necessary.
  • Use guides with pictures to demonstrate each step of a skill. For example, to help students learn how to best wash their hands, use pictures of turning on the water, pumping the soap, rubbing hands together, getting paper towels, etc. You will want to slowly fade out the picture prompts to promote independence of the skill.
  • Make the materials relevant. For our previous hand-washing example, take pictures of the bathroom that students use to develop your picture prompts. If you're teaching students how to make a grocery list, use items that you know the students like to eat.
  • Help students generalize skills across settings. Although they may practice with picture prompts and examples they know and recognize, branch out to help them experience washing hands in different bathrooms and grocery shopping at different stores.
  • Let students practice as much as possible.
  • Plan units that are engaging and address multiple life skills in the same lesson.

Life Skills Activities

The following are some examples that you may use in your classroom, depending on the skill levels of your students. The following activities are designed to be used in a self-contained middle school classroom. If appropriate, they may then be turned into an ongoing lesson, revisited by students throughout the year.

Coffee Shop

With permission from administrators, students with intellectual disabilities may operate a coffee shop on campus. Coffee will be served only to staff; not to other students. The activity allows for several different life skills to be learned and practiced:

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