7 Essential Independent Living Skills for Adults with Disabilities: A Discussion

Independent living skills for adults with disabilities allow them to achieve a greater degree of personal autonomy, for example, by managing their own home. Teaching independent living skills to special needs should cover a wide range of areas, from personal finances to household chores to using public transport.

Some areas covered when teaching independent living skills for special needs:

1. Financial management

Income may come from employment, family or government funding, while outgoings will include essentials such as food, clothing, utility bills and transportation as well as more discretionary leisure spending. An independent living skills program could use work placements with real cash and a debit card to provide a realistic experience of handling money.

2. Household chores

Managing a household means navigating constant chores. Even if the adult is not the sole resident, they will need to contribute. Cleaning and tidying, laundry, cooking, yard work and a host of other tasks need to be completed, which will require a certain degree of organization, plus communication if it is a shared space. There also needs to be a basic understanding of hygiene health and safety.

3. Nutrition

Eating may seem simple, but it comes with many phases. First, meals need to be planned, with an understanding of how to make them healthy and nutritionally balanced. Next, ingredients need to be purchased, which requires more managing of both money and social interaction. Then, there is the actual process of following a recipe (literacy) and cooking, which may involve sharp knives and hot stoves. There are many opportunities for sensory over stimulation.

4. Being out in Public

Going to the shops is just one example of when an adult may need to go out in public. There are also medical appointments, work, school, social events and more. This means additional pressure to conform to social expectations, increased risk of over stimulation, and potentially a range of unfamiliar environments to navigate. Practice and building a routine may be the best ways to deal with the most common outside situations, but preparation will be needed for unexpected occurrences.

5. Social skills

Social skills are often a particular challenge for people living with autism, intellectual disability and similar conditions. These challenges can be magnified when interacting with unfamiliar people, who may not understand their disability and situations outside of their normal routine. That is why working on social skills is such an important part of most independent living skills programs.

6. Self-regulation

In a familiar and controlled environment such as at home or in a program for adults with disabilities, self-regulation is far easier than out in the wider world. Developing new and healthier coping mechanisms for what to do when overwhelmed or distressed can help prepare individuals for when they need to deal with problems and do not necessarily have their usual support immediately available.

7. Foundational skills

Programs for adults with disabilities may place a reduced priority on foundational academics such as language, literacy and numeracy, but that is not the same as ignoring them. Reading shopping lists or letters from the bank, adding up a bill, or communicating with the people you meet every day are all common tasks where these skills are needed, so they still need to be practiced. They can sometimes be made easier through the use of assistive technology.


This is not a comprehensive list of independent living skills for adults with disabilities, why they are important or how they are taught, but it can provide a starting point for a discussion and, hopefully, improved understanding.

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