Beyond Disabilities: A Holistic Approach to Skill Development for Independent Living

Teaching independent living skills for special needs is not just about ticking off boxes or ensuring that each student passes the right test or earns the right qualification. This is especially true with independent living skills for adults with disabilities, who often face additional and complex challenges. A holistic approach allows you to consider the whole person and tailor your approach to better support them as an individual.

What are independent living skills for adults with disabilities?

Independent living skills are those you need to be able to survive with no or minimal support. This can include managing a budget, attending to your personal hygiene needs, meal planning, shopping, preparing and cooking food, and a range of common basic household tasks. It may also include basic social skills, such as establishing and maintaining relationships, and being able to obtain and keep a job.

These types of skills are difficult to measure quantitatively, especially in adults with autism, intellectual disability and other learning difficulties. You may be required to rethink how you measure success, with each student facing specific challenges based on their unique needs and you having to adjust your approach to account for these individual differences.

How do you take a holistic approach?

Taking a holistic approach means acknowledging the individuality of each student and working to discover their strengths and weaknesses. Instead of establishing one benchmark that every student must achieve, you have to consider the whole person and the specifics of their situation to help identify the most appropriate way to support them in achieving their distinct goals.

The general aim of most programs for adults with disabilities is to ensure attendees are happy and healthy, and where possible, to increase their personal autonomy. What this will look like depends on the nature of the individual’s disabilities, the kind of support they have at home, and their own personal desires. Instead of assuming what they want, it is important to discuss their goals with them as well as their parents, careers or other relevant individuals, and work together to create a plan outlining how to best achieve those goals.

In the case of independent living skills, this could include something like the Real Economy program to practice managing money in a variety of real-world situations, it could be practicing how to use public transport, and it could be preparing and cooking meals that can then be shared with others as a social event. Holistic skills development should cover every possible aspect of independent living in different contexts.

Independent living skills are particularly well-suited to the holistic approach because they incorporate such a broad range of different behaviors and actions. There are opportunities to use language and literacy, communication, mathematics, social skills, organizational skills and more, so students should have opportunities to show their strengths and challenge themselves to improve their weaknesses.


The holistic approach means that you will support each student slightly differently depending on their specific combination of strengths and weaknesses, allowing each of them to have their own goals and measures of success. This should encourage them to be happier, more confident, and better able to manage their own independent lives.

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