Teaching Living Skills to People with Autism

Dr. Dana Gadaire discusses teaching living skills to children with autism. Teaching your child independent skills - home living, personal care, etc. - can be easier said then done. A great start is to break up your child's daily routines in a typical day. For example, create checklists for different parts of the day, and help get your child accustomed to the daily routine by checking off items on the list as the day goes on. If your child requires more supports, you can also break down each specific task into its own checklist, to make sure each task is completed correctly and efficiently. 

Research has shown that Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is the most effective treatment approach for people with autism. ABA has become widely accepted among health care professionals and is used in many schools and autism treatment clinics.  ABA can, over time, increase desired behaviors and decrease undesired behaviors.

ABA is used to help people with autism learn new skills and behaviors by breaking these skills into smaller steps for learning. This called task analysis. ABA also utilizes positive reinforcement that encourages repeating the desired behavior or tasks.

In the Living Skills topic section of the Autism Advisor, you'll find toolkits that explain how to use these ABA techniques to teach specific new behaviors, such as brushing teeth, brushing hair, washing hands and making snacks, as well as other living skills.   

In watching the video toolkits, you'll see that certain key techniques are used repeatedly, regardless of the specific skill being taught.

For example, you'll see that the child's experience is structured to provide the opportunity to explore the steps needed to learn the task. These opportunities are both specifically planned and also are naturally occurring as the learning process unfolds

The child also receives an abundance of positive reinforcement for demonstrating success in learning first the component parts of the new skill or behavior - such as picking up and holding the toothbrush, and eventually the complete set of tasks that constitute the new behavior. The emphasis is on positive interactions and enjoyable learning.

These techniques can help children with autism make meaningful changes in many areas when provided by trained ABA specialists. You can also use these techniques.

However, keep in mind that changes do not typically occur quickly.  Most children require intensive and ongoing instruction that builds on their step-by-step progress.

Their rates of progress vary considerably from person to person depending on age, level of functioning, and other factors.

Some children may acquire some skills quickly. But typically, this rapid progress may happen in just one or two areas, while much more instruction and practice is needed to master other skills. 

Just as a medical treatment program should be directed by a qualified medical professional, ABA programs for children with autism should be designed and supervised by qualified professionals, which include either licensed clinical psychologists with training in applied behavior analysis or behavior analysts, who are board certified with supervised experience providing ABA treatment. 

However, parents are indispensable in the child's program. They play a necessary and critical role.  Studies show that children whose parents are actively engaged in the process make measurable gains. Using the techniques you'll find in these living skills tool kits will enable you and your child to do just that.