Teaching Self-Help Skills to Students with Autism

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Self-help skills, such as brushing your teeth or preparing a meal, can be difficult for students with autism to master. But with the help of a few strategic techniques, teachers can help students learn how to function more independently.

Autism and Life Skills

Carson is a 10-year-old boy with autism. He just started fifth grade and is excited about the new school year. Carson tries to make friends at school and wants to fit in with the other kids. His teacher, Mrs. Gibbs, has noticed that unlike his peers, Carson has a difficult time with basic life skills. Some of these skills include tying his shoes, buttoning his coat, feeding himself appropriately, and stating his address and phone number. After talking with his parents, Mrs. Gibbs also learns that Carson has a hard time following directions at home, getting dressed, and showering himself.

Mrs. Gibbs and Carson's parents have decided to help Carson work on some self-help skills at school. Before we explore some of their strategies, let's define self-help skills.

Self-Help Skills

Self-help skills are skills that make it possible for kids to meet their own needs. For most kids, some of these skills come naturally with age as they watch their parents and siblings. Things like pouring a glass of milk, bathing yourself, or washing dishes are usually learned at home. Self-help skills could also include those that require some instruction, like communicating with others, reading independently, or solving problems.

Children with autism do not always acquire these skills in the same way as their peers. Some kids need individualized, direct instruction to help them learn these behaviors. Teaching these skills is important because they help kids develop independence. Regardless of their abilities, all children should learn to become as independent as possible to give them confidence and improve their quality of life.

Strategies for Self-Help

This section of the lesson will provide several strategies for teaching self-help skills to students with autism; we'll explore these ideas, using Carson as an example. Keep in mind that these self-help skills have been selected among many to demonstrate specific teaching tools. Your students may or may not need the same instruction. It will be up to you to assess the needs of your students and adapt these ideas to fit their unique learning styles.

Checklists and Routines

Carson learns better and behaves more appropriately when he follows a consistent routine. Like many kids with autism, Carson does not like changes in his schedule. To help Carson practice getting ready in the morning, Mrs. Gibbs works with Carson's mother to create a clear checklist for him to follow. The checklist includes the following tasks:

  • Get dressed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Brush teeth
  • Comb hair
  • Get backpack
  • Get on the school bus

This short checklist helps Carson understand exactly what is expected of him and provides him with a visual reminder of what he should be doing. As Carson follows the same routine each morning, using this checklist for support, he is learning to do more on his own.

Task Analysis

Children with autism typically have trouble communicating with others. They often need short, explicit instructions in order to understand what they're supposed to do. For example, if Mrs. Gibbs asked Carson to 'make a peanut butter sandwich', he could easily become overwhelmed. Although a typical 10-year-old could figure out how to make a sandwich, Carson needs more instruction. Task analysis is when we break down a skill into small, manageable steps. This is how Mrs. Gibbs has task analyzed making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich:

  • Get two pieces of bread and set them on the counter.
  • Get the peanut butter and set it on the counter.
  • Get the jelly and set it on the counter.
  • Get a butter knife.
  • Put the butter knife into the peanut butter and scoop some out.
  • Spread the peanut butter over one piece of bread.
  • Put the knife into the jelly and scoop some out.
  • Spread the jelly onto the other piece of bread.
  • Put the bread with jelly on top of the bread with peanut butter.
  • Make sure the edges of both pieces of bread are lined up.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account