Teaching special education classes and special needs classes is about more than improving academic performance. It is about providing life skills to help each student achieve their goals and obtain a higher degree of independence when they go out into the world. People with autism and intellectual disabilities can be happy and productive members of their communities with the right lessons and support.
What do we mean by life skills?
Life skills are the things we need to function in everyday society. They are how we adapt to the wide variety of situations we encounter, from the regular (interacting with friends and family) to the unexpected (meeting a stranger). They are what we need to manage a home or budget, to complete education, to keep a job and to maintain healthy relationships.
Teaching life skills in special education classes and special needs classes
A comprehensive special needs program should cover all the skills necessary for independent living, working with the differing needs of students to provide individualized support tailored to their particular strengths and weaknesses.
One key aspect of a successful life is being able to manage your personal finances. This includes being able to evaluate your income and outgoings, then adjusting your budget accordingly. Specific programs to teach financial management can use a mix of real cash and debit cards for students, with some money coming from work placements.
Food and Nutrition
Nutrition is a complicated area that even people without intellectual disabilities can struggle to navigate. Managing nutrition means balancing different types of nutrients, planning meals, shopping for the correct ingredients, then preparing and cooking them in a safe and healthy way.
There are other aspects of independence that do not come under finances or nutrition. This could include more general household management, such as keeping your home clean and tidy. It could also include personal hygiene. Organizing one’s time, making decisions and being able to respond to problems are all important life skills for independent living.
Difficulties with communication and social interaction are considered key features of autism. People with autism may struggle to express themselves, or to interpret the behavior of others. Frustration over communication difficulties can cause challenging behavior.
Social skills lessons, such as role-playing social situations, can allow students with autism to improve self-regulation and find healthier ways to express themselves. They may also learn the niceties of etiquette and how to better establish and maintain relationships with others.
Academics may not be the primary focus of life skills classes but the basics of reading, writing, language, numeracy and, in the modern world, digital literacy are all essentials that will make it much easier for students to be successful in life, even if teaching methods may need to vary from mainstream schooling.
These are just some of the life skills you can teach students with autism, intellectual disabilities and other cognitive impairments. Mastering these things will improve their quality of life and give them more options to live as happy and independent adults, capable of managing the majority of everyday challenges they may face.
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