Real Life Skills

A new teacher in a junior high life skills classroom asked for some input into the types of skills her students with autism will need when they graduate from high school at age 18 or 22. The specific list must, of course, be individualized to each teen, but there are some general skills that everyone can use in “real life” as adults.

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(1) Self-Care. Options for employment expand if an individual is able to take care of her basic needs independently or with minimal assistance. Teaching basic self-care skills such as toileting, lunch and snacks, washing hands, and taking care of personal items such as a backpack or nametag as independently as possible is a good place to start.
(2) Focus. Most jobs require that an employee focus on the task at hand. It is also important that a person focuses on the directions given by a boss or supervisor and to focus on any important announcements or on safety drills. But, most importantly, a person who can focus on a task for an extended period of time without reminders will have more job opportunities.
(3) Follow. Compliance is another critical skill in employment situations. An individual with autism will be much more productive in any job if she can and will follow directions with minimal assistance. If she has deficits in processing verbal instructions, she can be taught to use a visual schedule so employers and job coaches can successfully communicate the information she needs to complete a task or a job sequence. If she is rather strong-willed or uncooperative, we can gradually shape a more cooperative outlook and a willingness to follow directions and job procedures.
(4) Finish. Even when jobs are broken down into a series of smaller tasks, some individuals with autism are unable to complete those tasks without prompting. A person’s employment will be much more successful if he can learn to finish tasks or job sequences with less and less prompting from a supervisor or job coach. It is up to us to help our friends with autism become less prompt-dependent.
(5) Flexible. The nature of autism causes some individuals to be intolerant to changes in routine. Our friends will have a much more successful job experience by learning to be more flexible and to “go with the flow.”

TIP FOR THE DAY: These are just a few of the core skills necessary for employment. It is good to start early in teaching and shaping these skills since some are rather stubborn natural characteristics of autism.

We can also benefit from shaping our own skills so we can systematically address challenging issues that can arise in the lives of our friends with autism. Click on the Toolkit tab on our webiste for great resources;

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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