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5 Autism Life Skills To Help Kids into Independent Living

April 3, 2024

They say childhood is fleeting, and it’s true. Just five months ago, my son turned 18. I still can’t believe it.

Contrary to what our kids often think, they usually don’t leave the family home or stop having to listen to us the very second they enter adulthood. The reality is that independence doesn’t always mean living on their own.

With the addition of autism, life skills become even more of a concern as we allow our kids more independence. No matter what their skill level, the more they can do for themselves, the better off they will be. We may not worry any less, but we can prepare them as best we can.

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1. Personal care

Helping children learn life skills begins with teaching them about themselves. Showing them how valuable they are in this world and inspiring them to own it. This will be the base for everything they do moving forward.

Self-care is the foundation of the first basic skills they need and often the earliest tasks they learn to master. Here are some of them:

  • washing face
  • brushing teeth
  • changing clothes
  • bathing
  • identifying needs: sensory, physical, mental
  • managing emotions
  • communicating effectively

When teaching these skills, it’s important to show our kids why they are necessary. It may seem obvious, but I know I often get caught up in just making sure these things are done. If I’m focused on a checklist, I forget to teach the “whys.”

These are the building blocks that form a foundation for independence. As they identify their needs, they can learn their own coping skills and when to employ them, such as:

  • taking a break
  • relaxation routines
  • self-soothing techniques
  • visual supports

2. Social skills

We know that connecting with others is a skill that is extremely vital to life. The relationships built with family members and friends are a huge support. Autism can make this challenging.

We can help our kids on the autism spectrum learn how to communicate in their own way while they are young, with teachers, doctors, family, and friends. This means advocating for them, supporting them, and translating for them when necessary.

Instead of making them feel that they have to adapt to the world, show them ways to help them communicate with the world on their own terms.

A woman helping children socialize https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/life-skills-independent-living/

Providing lots of interaction practice can be done through regular visits with friends, both in person and virtually. It is important to allow them to dictate the amount of time, the person they wish to connect with, and their chosen medium.

This is a skill they will have to utilize throughout their lives as they interact with the world as adults. Using their autonomy when they are young teaches them to manage their sensory needs, mental health, and interaction with others.

3. Advocacy

When we advocate for our children, we say to them, “You are valuable. You do not always have to adapt to the world; you are worth the world adapting to you.” This teaches our children that, though challenging at times, their autism can be a superpower.

Autism is a different way of seeing. If our children value themselves and what autism brings to their lives, they will learn how to problem-solve instead of conforming.

Once our children have received the necessary support and acquired essential life skills such as self-value and self-care, they’ll be equipped to advocate for themselves confidently.

In doing so, their social skills will come into play. They will know better how to negotiate for the needs they have identified, and they will stand up for themselves more effectively.

When our children have learned self-care and social skills, they will also learn how to enlist others for help. This valuable life skill will influence all others as they move into their future, identifying their needs and advocating for themselves and others.

4. Executive functioning skills

It is important to manage our child’s specific struggles with executive functioning skills. Learning organizational skills, being on time, completing tasks, and managing money are daily living skills our children will need throughout their adult lives.

These challenges can be met through therapies, games, praising their approach to tasks, and taking steps that may not seem important at the time but build skills for future use.

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For example, money skills can be learned by allowing our kids to see us pay bills every month and participate at an age-appropriate level. Usually, we reserve that for later, but why does it have to be on that timeline?

Exposing our children to our daily routine makes them aware and comfortable with the needed skills, even before it becomes their responsibility.

5. Job skills

The skills needed for the job market are the same as those needed at home, at their core. Keeping this in mind as we teach our littles is key.

Utilizing the good traits common to autism can come into play in the workforce. Some of these traits are:

  • rigid thinking, 
  • a love for order and predictability, 
  • special interests
  • enjoying one’s own company more than that of others,
  • seeing the world differently.

The problem-solving skills can come in handy for finding and keeping a job, as well as executive functioning skills, of course. Planning for eventualities such as common illnesses, paying bills, transportation, and finding help can be learned in childhood.

One tip is to regularly utilize public transportation with our little ones (even if we have a perfectly good car) so that, if they need it as adults, it will already be familiar to them.

We should start by changing the way we think

We need to change the way we think of our kids’ abilities. If we think in terms of empowering rather than controlling, we will be able to teach life skills and foster learning them.

Changing our expectations will free us to really concentrate on building their feeling of self-worth, avoiding unsafe situations, and planning ahead for what will come.

It’s not just about teaching life skills; it’s about teaching why the life skills are relevant to their lives now and in the future. The most important life skills are the ones they learn to manage in correlation with their own lives, not just performing daily tasks.

This could also mean teaching basic life skills later in life and other skills earlier. In many ways, this entails providing personalized support based on child-led parenting, which is the opposite of traditional parenting practices that most of us were raised with and expected to enforce.


Q: What are some effective autism life skills activities?

A: Effective autism life skills activities include structured routines and visual schedules to promote organization and predictability, as well as practicing social interactions through role-playing and peer modeling to enhance communication and socialization skills.

Q: What skills are challenging for people with autism?

A: Skills related to social interaction and communication tend to be challenging for people with autism, often leading to difficulties in understanding social cues and maintaining conversations. Sensory processing issues can make tasks requiring fine motor skills or sensory integration more challenging for them.

Q: Can an autistic person live independently?

A: Yes, many autistic individuals can live independently with the appropriate support and accommodations tailored to their needs. It depends on the individual’s abilities, resources available, and level of support they receive.


Hillier, A., Poto, N., Schena, D., Dorey, J., Buckingham, A., Santangelo, M., & Frye, A. (2022). Overview of a Life Skills Coaching Program for Adults on the Autism Spectrum: Coaches’ Perspectives. Psychological Reports, 125(2), 937-963. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033294121991021 

Post–High School Daily Living Skills in Autism Spectrum Disorder; 2021; Elaine B. Clarke BA, James B. McCauley PhD, Catherine Lord PhD https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0890856720320761 

Developing Social Skills and Social Competence in Children with Autism; International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education. 2021, 13 (3), 341-363, DOI: https://doi.org/10.26822/iejee.2021.195 

Daily living skills in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: Implications for intervention and independence; 2021; Elizabeth Baker, Katherine K.M. Stavropoulos, Bruce L. Baker, Jan Blacher https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1750946721000362 

Connor, A., Sung, C., Strain, A. et al. Building Skills, Confidence, and Wellness: Psychosocial Effects of Soft Skills Training for Young Adults with Autism. J Autism Dev Disord 50, 2064–2076 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-03962-w 

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