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  • David Robert

15 Transition Skills for Independent Living

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

As an educator working with transition-age people on the autism spectrum, and a mother of an at-home ASD college student, I am a proponent of starting early when teaching new skills. There's no such thing as "too early!" For many young people on the spectrum, skill acquisition can take much longer to acquire and generalize than for neurotypical learners.

The principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis work given time and patience. We are talking about breaking tasks down into their smallest components, using repetition and reinforcement. These are essential tools when introducing new concepts and teaching new skills.

For now, I am focusing on transition skills. Once you’ve decided which skill or skills you are going to target, start talking casually about them months before you actually attempt teaching or taking any action.

Chat about the benefits of having good hygiene or a clean organized space, making your own meal, taking an Uber, etc. Make it sound like an amazing adventure, or a badge of honor. Once you have the slightest buy-in, start the process: do it together, then, piece by piece, demonstrate, teach and gradually remove yourself until your child can do it independently.

I've put together some essential readiness skills you can start teaching early in high school, but these skills will benefit your child regardless of their post-secondary plan.

Heads up: when confronted with, “I can’t do it”, and I promise it will happen, here’s your opportunity to teach your child to put the word YET at the end of their statement of disbelief.

For example, your child says emphatically, “I can’t make my own lunch.” That’s when you suggest adding the word, “YET”. Now you can say, “You mean, I can’t make my own lunch YET.”

Yet represents the idea that it takes time and practice to learn something new and must be taught directly, not inferred, no matter how annoyed they are by the repetition.

“Yet” doesn’t come naturally to a black and white thinker, especially one who struggles with perfectionism and loses motivation when things don’t come easily. It’s teachable, but will have to come from you, or whoever is working with your child in the same way you would teach any new skill.

So, here’s my list:

  1. Hygiene: This includes wearing clean clothes, flossing and brushing teeth, showering, soaping up and a hair washing schedule, nail clipping, brushing hair and wearing deodorant. Also applying any medication or cream to skin.

  2. A place for everything: Create space for your child to organize and put away their belongings. Your child can be encouraged and taught to be responsible for clothes, books, games, etc.

  3. Simple meal prep and clean up: Whether it’s a sandwich or toaster pancake, a smoothie, or snacks for the road, think about what they’ll need when you’re not there to do it for them. Teach them simple clean up, so they know it’s no longer ok to leave dishes in the sink.

  4. Uber or Lyft: Download the app and start teaching your child how to use these services. It will come in handy.

  5. Travel training: Understanding how public transportation works, when it’s available, gives your child access to their community, a lifeline to leisure activities and employment opportunities.

  6. Laundry: Use visuals to guide your child about mixing colors with whites, measuring detergent and setting the dials.

  7. Debit card and ATM: You can start with a pre-loaded card or open an account with your child at a bank. There are many options available to teach your child how to budget and access money.

  8. On-line ordering: Your child will need things delivered so on-line ordering, whether through Amazon or Delivery Dudes and Grub hub, is something they can learn, and you can monitor.

  9. Visual calling: Practice Facetime, Skype and What’s App to prepare your child to develop a comfort level utilizing a visual calling system with you and other family and friends.

  10. Medication: Teach your child when and how to recognize it’s time to re-fill their medication and explore online delivery or a prepackaged method for dispensing.

  11. ID, wallet and keys: Get your child some form of ID, keys and a wallet and get them used to carrying them and using them when appropriate.

  12. Phone skills: Planners are terrific, but phones have a vast array of functionality. Teach your child to use their phone alarm to wake up, to set reminders before important appointments. They can use the calendar to remind them of tests and quizzes. Plus, if you install “Find My Phone”, or other tracking apps, you can know where your child is.

  13. Restaurant Skills: It’s important to start early teaching your child how to order off a menu and tell the server or the cashier in a fast-food restaurant what they would like using polite terms of “Please” and “Thank you”.

  14. Food Shopping: Include your child in meal planning and your system for making a shopping list and start familiarizing them with your supermarket layout and how to find what’s on their list. Teach them how to ask for help in a supermarket or any store.

  15. Sleep away from home: Create opportunities for your child to sleep away from home to practice these skills in different settings.

Don’t tackle everything at once but do start early. Talk about things in a positive context before you start teaching and make friends with the word yet. Your child will acquire these skills and continue their journey toward independent living. They will get there, they’re just not there yet…

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