How to Create Opportunities by Teaching Life Skills With Autism

As parents, we want the best for our children. We find ourselves doing almost everything for them, which is a part of our nurturing character. In most cases, time is usually the main reason or anticipating their needs and wants prior to their request.

How to Create Opportunities by Teaching Life Skills With Autism

As a result, children with autism become prompt dependent, and opportunities to display their abilities are restricted. Children on the autism spectrum should begin learning functional life skills at a young age. It sets the stage for independence, self-confidence, and willingness to learning new tasks.

Creating opportunities for your child to learn and build on his/her abilities is necessary. It builds self-confidence, independence, and decreases dependency and behaviors. Most children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) want to please others, and they want your praise. When this happens, they are likely to repeat the behavior/task/activities with enthusiasm. Frequently, I am asked, “How did you get him to complete the task? He won’t do it for me.”

When working with children with ASD, I ensure to do five things: create the opportunity, focus on abilities and strengths, provide consistency, follow-through, and give lots of reinforcement.

Create the opportunity

Your child can learn to put his/her dishware on the counter or in the sink after mealtime. How you ask? You create the opportunity by not doing it for the child. Based on ability, teach the skill and provide encouragement and support as needed. Remember to create the opportunity to see a starting point (baseline).

Focus on the child’s abilities and strengths

Introduce a life skill related to an interest or talent. For example, your child may show interest in the mailbox. Your first thought may be to purchase a toy mailbox or to use your crafting skills. This is the perfect opportunity to teach how to check and retrieve mail from the mailbox. Teach him/her based on abilities. The child may only be able to open and close the door. Praise for his/her ability. Any acts of participation warrants reinforcement. Meet the child where he/she is and build on what can be done and gradually introduce another aspect of the skill. In time, you will see the child is likely to do the imaginable.

Provide consistency

Focus on the skill until mastered based on ability. Remember every child is different and learns skills at different times. When introducing a new skill, be committed to seeing progress. Repetition is essential when teaching children on the autism spectrum. Progress takes time, patience, and practice.

When you decide on a skill, create an action plan. Your action plan should involve the skill, scheduled practice time, time for the process, and reinforcement. With my experience, time for the process s is most challenging for the parents. I suggest two things; start the process and allow time for possible behaviors, speed, or attention to details. Avoid practicing when time is a major factor. Through it all, remember to offer encouragement and intermittent verbal and or physical praise.

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Follow through

Stick with it until the end. During the process, remember to do some self-talk, encourage yourself to hang in there. When you give the demand or instruction to do a task, ensure the task is completed based on ability. At times follow-through is challenging. We tell our child to do something and then five minutes in we give in and move on for various reasons. Your child is fine with our lack of follow-through because it means they do not have to do the ‘dreadful’ task.

Your child needs you to follow through which sets him/her up for success. Your child depends on you to help him/her succeed. During the task, encourage the child with a common Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) strategy – first/then. First, you do what I want you to do, then you can have or do what you want. For example, first wipe the table then bounce the ball. First, put on your shirt then put on your shoes. First then is like ‘magic dust’ when used appropriately.

Give lots of reinforcement

Reinforcement is just as important as teaching the skill. Reinforcement may be something tangible, edible, physical, or verbal. Choose the reinforcement likely to produce the best results. During the task provide intermittent reinforcement to keep the momentum, such as physical (high fives, tickles) and or verbal (great job, you are a rock star).

Occasionally remind the child what he/she is working for using first/then terminology. Tangible (favorite toy) and edibles (something sweet or savory) are most effective when they are isolated for specific skills and give for completion. This will assist with progress when he/she performs the skill. The child is likely to perform well for the limited access reinforcement.

I encourage you to start today. See your child’s abilities and build on them. Functional life skills are important for every child’s development. It gives them a purpose. It fosters independence. It increases communication and decreases behaviors. Try these five basic living skills support based on ability:

1.Brushing teeth

2. Cleaning up after self

3. Hand washing

4. Checking mail

5. Putting trash in can

Our Motto at Sandra L. Thompson and Associates; “Our children are smart! They can tell us! Let them try! They can do it!”

This article was featured in Issue 93 – ASD Advice for Today and Tomorrow

Sandra Thompson

Sandra L. Thompson, Differently Abled Life Skills Specialist, has nine years of experience working with the ASD community. Sandra received her BA in Psychology from York College, Jamaica, New York. Sandra is a mother, educator, and owner/founder of Sandra L. Thompsons & Associates, Inc. in Richmond, Virginia. Sandra’s passion shines through her work as a Differently Abled Life Skills Specialist. She teaches children functional life skills and supports parents during the process. For more information visit the website: and on Instagram: Sandral.thompson