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 you child has an IEP, and depending on their skill set, a “life skills classroom” or “life skills curriculum” may have been suggested to you.
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?
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.
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.
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.
IEP Placement: Life Skills Class
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.
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.
Casey Life Skills
Casey is a company that does a lot of work within the life skills space. What’s cool about them is that they address a whole continuum of skills sets, and their stuff is designed for a variety of populations. The best part–they have a whole host of FREE resources and assessments for you to look at and use. Including:
Examples of Life Skills
- 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)
How to decide for your Child.
Time needed: 30 days.
How to Determine if Life Skills 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 process 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 in our Facebook group.