Working with LIFE Skills students can be rewarding and challenging. There are so many things going on at once, sometimes you lose your bearings. Here is a reminder of 5 must do’s when teaching LIFE Skills students.
Must Do’s In LIFE Skills: Use a Predictable Routine
I don’t know about you, but I am a creature of habit. I tend to do the same things every day, or at least every week. Groceries on Friday, laundry on Saturday, church on Sunday. When something pops up that disrupts my weekly trip to the grocery store or laundry day, it messes me up- that monkey wrench throws off everything.
So why would we think any less for our LIFE Skills students? They feel secure with routine and come to rely on it. Sometimes even the smallest disruption can become a major issue. We have to understand this is a part of our student’s world and, whenever possible, prepare our students when changes are coming.
Also, don’t forget to train “-ish”! It is so important to teach our students that things don’t always happen at one exact time- times can be plus or minus five minutes or so. This will help a student better adjust when schedules are slightly changed, when they are an adult and things are not always right on time, and when your day has an unpredictability that doesn’t need a full on tantrum or behavior.
Must Do’s In LIFE Skills: Modify Behavior with Repetition
Everyone learns and retains information better when it is repeated over and over again. Students in LIFE Skills are no different, but the number of times they need to be exposed to a skill in order to learn it is significantly more. The best way to teach new skills and mold behavior is to repeat, repeat, repeat!
Consistency becomes critical with this- you have to deliver the same consequences over and over. Reward correct responses and ignore or redirect incorrect responses. Whatever you do- be consistent.
Must Do’s In LIFE Skills: Improve Socialization
The number one thing that prevents LIFE Skills students from being employed in their post-secondary is inappropriate social skills. We have a great opportunity to teach appropriate social skills throughout the day in the LIFE Skills setting. The one thing you always have to remember is to model, practice, and generalize.
Using social narratives, scripted interactions, role playing, and social stories really helps with improving socialization, but the one thing we have to do is offer lots of opportunities to socialize- keeping all your students separated from each other all day long does not allow for lots of authentic socialization. Offer students the chance to practice all the things you are modeling for them on their way to improved social skills.
Must Do’s In LIFE Skills: Provide a Mode of Communication
Want to know the one thing we can do as educators to prevent our students from being abused after they leave us? Communication- providing them with a reliable mode of communication. Even if that is as basic as eye gaze, blinking, pointing, head nod- whatever it is, arm LIFE Skills students with the ability to relay information to others including wants and needs as well as how they feel.
The only way you will be successful with this is to always have the mode of communication available, repeatedly model how it is appropriately used, and consistently expect the student to use the mode of communication.
Must Do’s In LIFE Skills: Address One Issue at a Time
This is an issue for so many LIFE Skills students, and they are sometimes very hard to address (think of your student nicely smelling your hair right before they spit in your face and then hit their own face- pleasant, right?) but it is something we have to work on. One of the most important things to remember is to address one problem at a time. Trying to change the whole child at once is a recipe for failure. Prioritize a student’s problems in order of importance or severity and always rank the ones that hurt others and hurt self first. With the above example, as unpleasant as smelling hair may be, it is not a top priority… the hitting of self would be.
Once you have identified the problem, work on that behavior until it is reshaped to an appropriate level and then start on the next behavior.