Life Skills Classroom | Special Education Resource Room

I really hate the term life skills. I mean, after all, we ALL need life skills. It’s just that what each person needs to be taught varies greatly. But, if your child has an IEP, and depending on their skill set, a “life skills classroom” or “life skills curriculum” may have been suggested to you.

I’m updating this post to include an explanation of What is a Resource Room , a Resource Room Teacher and/or a resource classroom. Special Ed Resource Classrooms often get confused with Life Skills Classrooms.

3 images showing a special education resource room and a life skills classroom

And, like many parents, you may be unclear as to what to expect from this IEP placement. How do you know what a Life Skills Classroom is? And how do you decide for your child?

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If it has been suggested to you that your child should be in either Life Skills or the Resource Room, it’s important to know the difference and where they overlap.

Life Skills Definition

“a skill that is necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life.”

Google Definition

Thanks Captain Obvious. But seriously, the definition is so broad, and our kids’ skills sets vary so much, that this can look very different from child to child.

Life skills are often referred to as adaptive skills or functional skills and the terms are often used interchangeably. Suffice it to say, that hopefully, all of our students are receiving life skills instruction every day.

a dad and his disabled child making decisions

Presume Competence, until proven otherwise.

The phrase “presume competence” is relevant everywhere in our kids’ lives. But it is of particular importance for kids in a “life skills” curriculum. Parents must do their due diligence and make sure that your child is performing at their maximum potential.

Because, tell you what….if I walk into one more fast-food restaurant or diner, and see a kid with Down Syndrome wiping down the tables, I’m going to scream. Our kids can do more than empty trash and wipe down tables! We need to constantly remind society of this, unfortunately.

But, once we determine that a child has very few skills, let’s support them as needed. Let’s celebrate all levels of ability. Used incorrectly, presume competence can actually harm a child.

Also read: 20 IEP Goals for Low Functioning Students

What are Life Skills?

For the most part, when referring to a child with an IEP who is taking a “Life Skills Curriculum,” it usually means that the child is now learning an every day functional skills set, and less traditional curriculum.

My son is in such a placement. He is learning ADLs or Activities of Daily Living, rather than traditional reading, writing and math. His teachers focus on food prep, dressing, hygiene and community based instruction (CBI) which I’ll get to in a minute.

Functional Skills Assessments

Like all the other goals and supports on your IEP, this would be determined by evaluations. Entering a full time “life skills” curriculum is not a decision to be taken lightly.

But what it comes down to is this: My son’s skill deficits, as far as every day living skills, as so vast, that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to cover everything he needs. So, as a family, we decided that we are willing to forego the traditional academic curriculum so that he has more hours to focus on this. However, focusing on functional skills does not have to be an “all or nothing” scenario.

Your first step as a parent is to request evaluations in this area to determine the true needs. The Vineland is one of the better known assessments for functional skills. The ABLLS (pronounced ables) is another.

Special Education Resource Room Teacher

Ok, so here goes. A Resource Room and a Life Skills Classroom can have similarities. Generally a Resource Room is just a classroom, usually smaller than your standard 20-30 students. A Life Skills Classroom often has things like a washer and dryer or kitchenette, to begin teaching those skills. The Resource Room Teacher may also teach Life Skills Curriculum, but not exclusively.

A Resource Classroom is often used for pullout teaching and therapy, either 1:1 or small group setting. Usually a Functional Life Skills curriculum is a full time setting, yet I have found it unusual for a student to be in the Resource Room as a full time placement. If that level of LRE is required, then the team needs to consider other placements.

So what happens in a Resource Room?

Most often what I see happening in a Special Education Resource Room is small group and 1:1 instruction and therapies. You may also have activities like counseling, social skills groups and other IEP supports and services.

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I have had clients who were in a Life Skills setting, but also were focusing on some (not all) parts of traditional academics. These were taught in the Resource Room. You often find things in a Resource Room like manipulatives, all the stuff you’d need to set up PECS or some Functional Communication for Autism, and extra sets of textbooks.

IEP Placement: Life Skills Class vs. Resource Room

My own son will be receiving a high school diploma based on his IEP goals, rather than meeting my state’s criteria for graduation. This can affect everything from securing a job to applying to college. Make sure you know what your child is getting. Look at the percentages at the back of your child’s IEP, and double-check what path they are on. Do not assume that the team would tell you if your child is not on a diploma path!

All too often, I run into parents who learn in 11th or 12th grade that their child is NOT on track to get a regular diploma, and by then it may be too late to earn the needed credits in a year or two.

Life Skills Curriculum

Yes, your school can or maybe already has, purchase a life skills curriculum to follow. There are many on the market by various publishers. However, it is also common for this to be provided to your child by his/her Special Education Teacher, OT or even the PT.

For example, my child had a PT goal of being able to independently climb in and out of my car. He did not have the motor planning and core strength to do this. As you can see, it fits in both PT and a life skill, and it was a priority for me because he was getting too big for me to lift.

Goals are determined by IEP evaluations, and should be a team decision.

Examples of Life Skills

I have a whole separate list of 100 Functional Life Skills IEP Goals.

  • Maintaining healthy relationships
  • Work and study habits
  • Planning and goal-setting
  • Using community resources
  • Daily living activities
  • Budgeting and paying bills
  • Computer literacy
  • Their permanent connections to caring adults

CBI as a Life Skill

CBI stands for Community Based Instruction. This is/was a strong area of need for my son, and it is a huge part of why he is in his current placement. Three times a week, his class goes out into the community for the sole purpose of learning. They go to grocery stores, fast food restaurants and pretty much anywhere you would expect to go as an adult. He is learning things like waiting in line and all the skills associated with grocery shopping.

I mention this only because a) I know that a lot of kids need more practice and support in this area. And b) it’s one of those areas where I frequently hear the “we don’t do that here.” There is nothing in IDEA or state regs that prohibits a school from providing CBI if it is what the student needs.

Executive Functions are Life Skills

Executive Functioning is an area that has gotten a lot more attention in recent years. I’m just throwing it out there as a reminder and to give parents food for thought. Remember, when a child lacks a skill, you either teach the skill or make accommodations for the child lacking the skill. (and accommodate while you are teaching)

Deciding on A Life Skills Classroom

How to Determine if a Life Skills Classroom is Appropriate for your child.

  • Ask for evaluations from your IEP team.
  • Read/heed the evaluation reports.
  • Ask for an IEE if you disagree with their evaluation findings.
  • Ask your school about graduation requirements.
  • At what point is it too late to change your mind? What does this mean for a diploma and/or credits?
  • Do the IEP Vision Statement activity with your family. The IEP is the road map. The Vision Statement is the destination. You must have a destination before you develop the road map.
  • Discuss with your family and child to maximum extent possible.
  • Think outside the box. Is there a way to address some of the needs outside of school hours, so that your child can still focus on academics? Can you do a mix? What does your child want to do?
  • Use the IEP Transition Plan to develop appropriate goals and supports.

Partial Programs and Pre-Determination

In the past 10 years, here are some problems with Life Skills that I have encountered with schools and students. These are thought barriers, or rigid thinking that you may have to overcome in your IEP process. Ideas such as:

  • Life skills is ONLY for students with Down Syndrome or intellectual disabilities.
  • ALL students with Down Syndrome or Intellectual Disabilities get placed in a life skills program.
  • The “all or nothing” mentality: Either your child is in life skills full time all day every day….or not at all.

None of the above is true, or in IDEA or state regs. And, thinking like this is ableist and contributes to negative stereotypes.

Remember, I is for individual in IEP. You should always advocate for what your child needs as an individual. Students with Down Syndrome can and do go to college. And some students who are not intellectually disabled have different learning styles and need more of a functional skills approach. Lastly, yes, adaptive skills can be taught on a part-time basis.

Life Skills PDF Worksheets

There is a lot out there. Too much for me to list, because remember, everything is a life skill. And, what a child needs will vary based on their skills set and ability.

However, I wanted to include this standards based list from California. I like it because it lists possible assessments and is a nice overview. It matches the skills up to CA standards, and offers a lot of resources and ideas.

Making the “Life Skills” Decision

Again, foregoing a regular diploma is a huge decision. I have never once regretted my decision, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy decision to make. Hopefully I have given you enough to get started and some tools to work with for advocacy.

As always, you can post your individual questions on our message boards.

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