Where do I start when I want to help my teen become more independent with life skills?
This is a question our family has asked ourselves many times when working with my brother and when I work in the clinic as an occupational therapist.
There are tons and tons of life skills to possibly help your teen learn and it can be overwhelming to figure out where is a good starting point! As a parent you are probably thinking, where and how do I find the time to figure out what to do. I want what is best for my teen, but I am just feeling lost and overwhelmed.
Here are 5 strategies our family has used when trying to figure out where to start when teaching life skills to my brother with autism
What is my brother interested in right now?
When we are able to find skills and activities that our teen is interested in right now, that can help decrease some of the frustration levels when learning something new. For example, this past year we have been working a lot on self care skills with personal hygiene skills. Age 15, was the first year that he started showing interest in taking care of his body. He was asking more questions at the doctors office visits and he was concerned about getting acne on his face. This started the conversation about how to help him become more independent with washing his face and taking a shower to help keep his skin clean. This sparked an interest for my brother and my mom learned to go with it and take every opportunity she could each day to help him with these skills.
As an occupational therapist, I have been trained to break down every day tasks into manageable steps and create task analysis for skills. My mom and I were able to work together to break down the steps he would need to do to wash his face and take a shower and we would ease into the skill. We wouldn't expect him to do every step right away when learning something new. Think about yourself, when you are learning a totally new skill do you expect yourself to know how to do everything right away? No..you break it down and learn one step at a time.
As a parent, you can break down a skill by doing most of the steps for the child in the beginning and have them complete the last step, or you can have them complete the first step and then you help them by doing more of the last steps.
What is one skill that he will need to be able to do on his own if I wasn't here to help him?
There are tons of life skills to learn whether it be how to care for ourself, social skills, or work skills and it can be overwhelming to figure out what to do. If you can block out thinking about tons and tons of skills, allow yourself to write down a list of 5 skills you hope for your teen to learn and be as specific as possible. By being more specific this allows you to better be able to break that skill down into accomplishable steps. For instance, if you say you want to help your teen with social skills, that is such a HUGE topic. What specific social skill do you want them to learn? Do you want them to better understand how to use manners and say please and thank you, do you want them to be able to complete small talk conversations with peers, or do you want them to be able to ask appropriate questions?
Starting thinking specific, and this will better allow you make progress towards your big picture goals.
What is something we can practice each day that won't take up a lot of our time?
Time is very limited, especially if our teen is involved in school and we are working full time as a parent. There never seems to be enough time to practice skills. Keep this in mind when you are wanting to help your teen focus on a new skill. Think about your daily routine, what is one skill that you feel like you can easily incorporate into your daily routine that won't cause a lot of new frustrations and anxiety. Is there something you can work on for a couple of minutes in the morning or before going to bed? Is there something you can work on in the car ride to school? Or could you incorporate it into your weekly trips to the grocery store or errand runs?
What are skills that he is already doing on his own, and is there one skill that I can add that is similar to what he already knows how to do?
By thinking about skill that your teen already knows how to do, this will better allow you to find a skill that might not be as hard for them to learn. For example if you were good at learning about computers and were taking a coding class, you probably wouldn't want to all of sudden take a cooking class then. Those two classes are very different and would be a lot harder to combine the skills that you are learning in them together. If your teen is good about the self care skills about taking care of themselves, how could you advance this skill for them? Could you make it harder by talking about different weather changes or destinations for when getting dressed? Could you add in more chores around the house with helping with cooking or cleaning?
What are his strengths and how can I build upon his strengths?
In our family, we love to focus on the positives and the strengths that each and everyone of us has. We always have areas in our lives that we can get better at specific skills, but we like to focus on the things that we are good at to help make us stronger. For example, my brother is super good at computer and searing for information on the computers. That is a big strength of his. We have learned to help use this strength for him as an asset when learning new skills. He enjoys learning and reading about new things online and sometimes we use that to help him research about specific skills he is working on. For example, when he was working on washing his face and more personal hygiene skills he could look up information about soap and information about acne. He would find out more information about the skills he was working on, and didn't even realize he was doing it.
What are strengths your teenager has? How can you build upon those strengths or use those strengths to help teach them new skills? For example if your teen is gifted with musical skills, how can you incorporate music to help them learn a new skill?
Check out our comprehensive checklist of life skills to help give you inspiration and ideas of what areas to of life skills to start to focus on today to help your teenager transition into adulthood!
Does your child or teen struggle with personal hygiene skills due to sensory challenges? Check out our free Personal Hygiene Sensory Strategies Toolkit for help!