no image

Autism Parenting Magazine: Teaching Your Child Valuable Life Skills

APM Image

A Recipe for Success

via Autism Parenting Magazine, Issue 48 – May 2016

By Michael P. McManmon, CIP Founder

Life skills are the “social competencies” that children, especially those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder or Learning Differences diagnosis, need to master in order to be successful in all aspects of their lives.  Life skills allow those on the Autism Spectrum to function in and be part of the wider community that surrounds them.

In general, life skills are considered to be those abilities that help promote well-being, positive health outcomes, and productive development. Obtaining life skills gives each individual the ability to acquire (I) social and interpersonal skills (including communication, refusal skills, assertiveness, and empathy), (II) cognitive skills (including decision-making, critical thinking, and self-evaluation), and (III) emotional coping skills (including stress management and emotion regulation).

Imparting life skills through parenting, working with your child’s school and teachers, and implementing opportunities for role-playing and practice can be daunting. This article offers insight and ideas for using a variety of tools and techniques designed to teach social, cognitive, and emotional well-being life skills to primary and secondary students.  Helping your son or daughter to master these basic life skills will allow your child to navigate the challenges of everyday living as they use these “learned” social competencies daily.

I urge parents to be prepared…as it often takes years of roleplaying and real-time/place scenarios in the instruction of social nuances before an individual on the Autism Spectrum is willing to change anything or do anything new.

In order to master social competencies, those imparting this knowledge need a wide range of tools that interact constructively with a variety of social contexts. The key to success will be repetition, repetition, repetition – and the solid belief that your son or daughter will get there. It just may take longer than you ever imagined.

These tools can be physical (i.e., the application of information technology), such as video and self-video modeling, the use of apps for organization, and scheduling. They can also be for learning relaxation and wellness techniques, or aiding in socio-cultural (i.e., using language) efforts through the use of direct instruction, role-playing, and role models, mentors, and others in the community.

First Things First

Develop the social and interpersonal skills that help your child make informed decisions, communicate effectively, and become aware of social nuances as they learn how to communicate clearly with others. Ask them to:

  1. Use their brain to think about others (how they might be feeling or what they are interested in).
  2. Use their eyes to make connections (such as making eye contact or acknowledging a person is speaking).
  3. Use their bodies to make connections (such as shaking hands, or touching someone on the shoulder).
  4. Use their words to make connections (such as asking: “How are you today?”).

Demonstrating these skills by role-playing (including video modeling and video self-modeling), then going out into the community to practice these skills during outings and recreational activities will allow your son or daughter to move forward rapidly and make tangible strides as they begin to obtain these important skills. Explaining and then practicing verbal and non-verbal communication and reading the body language of others is a skill they will need to work on daily.  You can use scenarios in TV shows (especially sitcoms), videos, movies, and in real life — such as observing others in restaurants, when shopping, and during recreational events – to point these nuances out.

The things a neurotypical child will “get” automatically – such as facial expressions, body movements taken for granted, posture, gestures, touch, personal space, and voice modulation – are all things that will need to be taught and practiced in real time and place settings, using as many concrete examples as possible.  And this practice will need to happen as opportunities for reinforcement occur during the day. Schedule role-play, video model, video tape, and practice sessions using scripted scenarios.

Helping your son or daughter develop cognitive flexibility is also a key to success in acquiring skills for life.  Students on the Autism Spectrum are pretty rigid and set in their ways.  A great place to start developing this flexibility is getting them to look at, discuss, and work with the “Black and White Thinking” model.   This paradigm can set the stage for developing a dialogue, conversations, ideas, and examples as you and your child look at each statement in the model.

“Black and White Thinking”

  • I am right.
  • You are right.
  • We are both right.
  • We are both wrong.
  • You can be right and I can be wrong.
  • I can be partially right and you can be partially right.
  • I can be partially right and you can be partially wrong.
  • You can be partially right and I can be partially wrong.

Life-skills competencies can also be learned by having an individual or a group of individuals work with and mentor your child.  This might be a clinician, social worker, support professional, relative, or peer that your child likes and trusts.   These people can become positive role models for your child to emulate and can provide examples for role-playing as they practice social competencies with your son or daughter.

Self-care and grooming are essential and are also things you can work on daily. Explain to your son or daughter that these things are important regarding how one is perceived and accepted by others. Self-care basics can be taught at home as well as by using social and recreational activities that offer an oppor­tunity to teach grooming and what dress and man­ner is appropriate to the event or activity. It is also a good way to impart the message that dress codes, social conduct, and general expectations that they will be interacting with will vary depending upon the activity. For example, what is appropriate dress and behavior for a local ball game would not be accept­able at a Broadway play. What is appropriate at a fast food restaurant with a casual group of friends is very different in terms of dress and manners at a Five-Star restaurant, or family function where someone else is being honored or is the center of attention.

Talking about concrete examples from your own life and the lives of others, providing role models for mentoring and working with your son or daughter (including peer mentors), as well as opportunities to practice in social settings (with pre-coaching or pre-teaching} will allow your child to move forward at a quicker pace and obtain important life skills.

Acknowledging progress (no matter how small or incremental it may be) is the most important part of this entire process. Honoring the hard work and challenges, with praise, reward, and encouragement is vital to making this new knowledge and these new skills “stick:’ This encouragement and praise will set the scene for further instruction as each individual applies the skills for life that they have obtained to acquiring specific skills for school and then eventu­ally … skills for meaningful work, independent living, and happy lives.

Read the article


About the Author

Dr. Michael McManmon is the Founder of CIP, a post secondary program for young adults with Au­tism and other Learning Differences. Dr. McMan­mon is a featured keynote speaker and presenter at ASD/LD conferences worldwide.

Autism and Learning Differences: An Active Learning Teaching Toolkit – Adapted from Chapter 3: Competency 1 – Skills for Life

Published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Novem­ber 2015

This has been a special needs program update from Asperger’s & LD College Programs. You may also click here to read the original article on the main program website.