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You may have seen the title of this post and thought “only five important life skills to teach??” Of course, I know there are many, many important life skills we strive to teach our children. I get overwhelmed just thinking about them all. I sat down to think of which skills seemed most important to me right now, and this is the list I came up with.

1. Identification

As a parent, I’m terrified that my daughter might wander away from me at a grocery store, the mall, the park, etc. Of course, I’m equally afraid that she could find a way to escape from school, as so many other children have done. Teaching personal information to children with special needs can be difficult, but essential to their safety. It’s important that a child be able to let a safe person know who she is and how to get her home safely.- and it can be done whether a child is verbal or not. I’ve posted before about the incredible trick we used to teach my daughter our address and phone number.

2. Hygiene

Not only do we feel our best when we are clean and put together, we perform better, too. I always try to arm my daughter with the self-esteem she needs to meet the challenges of the world around her. Looking and dressing becomingly helps to encourage others to engage with us and as my child begins to enter adolescence, I know she and her peers are becoming more self-aware. If your child is able to care for himself, a daily checklist on the bathroom mirror might do the trick. If your child requires a visual checklist and step-by-step guides, make one using boardmaker or PECS (picture exchange communication system). Other children may require repetitive hand-over-hand instruction and eventual faded prompts. Some children will find some personal hygiene tasks easier than others- putting on deodorant might be easier than thoroughly brushing through hair.

3. Independent Toileting

I’d venture to guess that all parents would like their children to be able to independently use the toilet. This comes a bit more easily to some than others. I recently wrote a post detailing some toilet training tips for kids with special needs and you can check that out here:

4. Transition smoothly

Because it can be so difficult for children to leave preferred activities, working on transitioning smoothly is a must. There have been times when I didn’t even want to take my daughter to the library because I was anticipating and dreading the meltdown when it was time to go. There are a few things that have worked well for us. Using a visual timer gives her something tangible that isn’t just dependent on mom’s warnings. Since I always have my phone, I just use the timer feature there. Using First/Then can help set proper expectations and eliminate anxieties about what might come next. Each time my daughter is able to transition well, I talk about it. I bring it to her awareness and I praise her. Sometimes, just pointing out to her that she can do something encourages her to try again.

5. Swim

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among individuals with autism. In 2012, the National Autism Association noted that around hald of all people with an autism spectrum disorder attempt to elope or wander from a safe place. The propensity for wandering paired with a dangerous attraction to water can be fatal. It is very highly recommended that children with special needs learn to swim. We’re not talking about becoming olympic athletes, but our kids need to learn basic water safety. As well, water can be a soothing environment for people who are easily overstimulated while providing nice proprioceptive input.

5 important life skills

These are my top five. Do you have anything you’d add to the list?