Alexis Yocum, MS, CPRP
Raising and supporting children with special challenges can be both rewarding and scary at times. As they become older, the idea of developing life skills such as activities of daily living, shopping, managing finances, and cleaning becomes important, yet overwhelming. Many parents find themselves wondering, where and how do I start? If you have ever felt this way, you are not alone. You will want to begin the process of life skill development as early as possible so that they can become comfortable with including these tasks into their routines gradually overtime. Take the time to begin communicating the importance of these skills and try to understand what their personal motivation may be to learn them in order to choose a starting point. Begin with a task process that is familiar to them and that they seem willing to learn more about.
Use Their Strengths and Interests
Sometimes doing the tasks we need to do can be daunting, leaving us unmotivated. This is no different for this group. Atypical adolescents and young adults have their own sets of unique challenges, in addition to many special strengths. Take some time to reflect on these strengths and be creative on how to use them to help your child succeed. Your child is a visual learner? Personally model how to complete these tasks and help them create a visual reminder. Your child enjoys Marvel comics? Use the desire of a new comic to begin teaching them budgeting skills so their bills are paid and have leftover funds for a reward.
Keep it Simple
It can be difficult for most children to envision the outcomes of abstract and long-term tasks. Starting small and using different approaches can help significantly. Start with a checklist or chart. Asking them to help create these tools can also be engaging. No detail is too small. It is all about what they need to connect the tasks, and this will be different for everyone.
For example, talk to them about their bedtime routine:
- Put pajamas on
- Put dirty clothes in laundry basket in bathroom
- Brush teeth for one minute
- Use mouth wash for 30 seconds
- Rinse sink
- Take evening medications (1 pink pill, 1 green pill, 2 yellow pills)
- Set alarm clock
- Turn off lights
- Get in bed
With a plan like this, they will begin to work towards mastering these life skills day by day. In addition, they will also have the opportunity to increase their overall confidence and willingness to try more challenging tasks in the future.
Do Not Give Up- You Can Do This!
You are your child’s cheerleader and support system! When a plan does not work out or they seem to take a few steps backwards, that is okay. It’s a natural part of life that things do take practice to get them right. By providing support and encouragement for them to keep trying, you are also indirectly teaching them the skill of perseverance and to not give up when things become more difficult. Letting them know that we all struggle with different tasks in life can help to increase their self-esteem and motivation to keep trying. No matter what the outcomes are, these activities will also help create additional opportunities for you and your child to spend valuable time together- so try to make it fun! The better the caregiver-child relationship, the more open they will be to getting out of their comfort zone and trying something new.
It is Okay to Ask for Help
While it would be great to be able to do everything for our children ourselves, that is not always possible. In most areas, there are programs and trained employees to assist with skill development. Not sure where to start? Contact your insurance provider to inquire about the services that are covered in your area to decrease stress about finding the right service for your child yourself. Ask about the referral progress and then take it step-by-step from there. You may be surprised by all the new types of programs that are being developed across the country. These programs may include group programs or services that provide skill building one-on-one in your child’s home or community. There are assessments and evaluations that can be completed to help determine the best level of services for you and your child. While the titles vary from state to state, some helpful services may include occupational therapy, behavior consulting, and Applied Behavior Analysis.