When is it the right time to start addressing life skills?


In short, the answer is that it’s never too early to start addressing life skills with the students and clients that we work with. I have been working as a Speech-Language Pathologist for over a decade now, and service mostly children and adults of all ages who meet the eligibility criteria as having a developmental disability. Sometimes I start working with a client when they turn 3 after they age out of the early intervention program, and sometimes I continue working with that same client over the next 10+ years. 

The mission of the Division of Developmental Disabilities is to “empower individuals with developmental disabilities to lead self-directed, healthy, and meaningful lives.” Our goals with these clients are called “functional outcomes” because they are designed to meet the functional communication demands generated during activities of daily living. I have some clients who I watched get on the bus for the special needs preschool program when they turned 3, and who I now see riding the bus to their middle school, or I see standing at the city’s bus stops to catch a ride up to the mall or bowling alley with friends. I’ve spent countless hours laughing and crying with my clients and their families when they met their first milestones, stood on the sidelines and cheered as they graduated from high school, helped prepare them for their first job interview, and shadowed them during their first day on their new job. Just yesterday, I helped tie my client’s apron on her after our speech session ended and I walked her next door to the local restaurant that she works at, and I reflected on all of the years we spent in our sessions preparing her with tools for this exact space where she is now…happy, independent, and truly living her best life. 

I’ll say it again, it’s never too early to start addressing life skills to work towards functional independence at home, in school, and out in the community. Here are my top 5 ways that I immediately start to work on increasing independence through life skills activities with this amazing population that I am so fortunate to be able to service: 

1. Work on Self-Care Skills

Discussing self-care activities such as brushing teeth, combing hair and other activities of daily living (ADLs) is critical for these students and clients to increase self-awareness and functional independence. For the adolescent students and clients, consider adding additional activities into the self-care skills repertoire related to puberty, such as showering, washing face, and putting on deodorant. I love practicing some of these common activities of daily living with the following resources. Click on any of the images below to purchase.  

Print and Go 3-Step Sequencing Life Skills in Activities of Daily Living

Print and Go 4-Step Sequencing Life Skills in Activities of Daily Living. 

Print and Go 5-Step Sequencing Life Skills in Activities of Daily Living. 

3-4 Step Sequencing Functional Activities of Daily Living Speech Boom Cards™

5-6 Step Sequencing Functional Activities of Daily Living Speech Boom Cards™

2. Work on Household Chores 

Encouraging students and clients to participate in household chores can teach them responsibility, get them involved in family routines and provide them with useful skills they can take with them as they get older. Some of my favorite ways to work on household chores include my

Sorting Laundry Digital Task Cards

Adapted Books for Around the Home

Cleaning Supplies Digital Task Cards

How to Be a Person By Catherine Newman

3. Teach Community Safety Skills 

For a good reason, safety is a big concern for many families, especially as children become more independent. Teaching and practicing travel training, including pedestrian safety, identifying safety and community signs, and other important safety markers to safely move about their community is integral for these students and clients we service. Some of my favorite activities to work on safety and community skills include the following resources:

Safety and Community signs Digital Task Cards

Task Box Safety Signs

4. Work on Vocational Skills

If you aren’t already aware, starting at age 14, students should have vocational skills included on their IEP as a part of an individualized transition plan. The best way to identify which vocational activity may be best for the student or client is to have them identify strengths, skills and interests of theirs and use this list to guide the type of vocational activities that are included as objectives. One of my favorite ways to work on interview etiquette and interview questions and responses is through my Preparing for an Interview digital task cards. Some of my favorite workbooks that I own and love that address vocational skills include the following:

Focus on Function by Evelyn R. Klein 

Functional Vocabulary for Adolescents & Adults by Beverly Class


Essential Work Skills Workbook by John L. Lipton

5. Practice Money Skills 

Learning how to use money is a critical life skill that can help the students and clients we support increase independence when out and about in the community. No matter what the level of the student or client is, there are ways that he or she can begin to learn money skills. From counting money, using the dollar up method, having them hand over money to the cashier, and all the way to budgeting their own money, there are a variety of ways students and clients can start working on money skills in order to provide them with the tools necessary to begin using these skills in different settings in the community. Some of my favorite work books to work on money include the following:

Building Real-Life Math Skills by Laine Onish

How to Be a Person by Catherine Newman

When I look back on how quickly these clients of mine have grown from fully dependent toddlers into young men and women that are living independent or semi-independent lives and are able to effectively move throughout their daily activities with little to no support, I am reminded of how important it is to target life skills from the get go in order to help empower them to live a self-directed, healthy, beautiful, and meaningful life. 

What else would you add to this list? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.  

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