Life Skills

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A person needs to be comfortable in their ability to manage their lives at home, work, and in public. Meeting that goal requires a mix of concentrated skills development in specific areas, and the ability to modify one’s approach to everyday tasks.

Life skills are critical at home or in public

The ability to complete tasks with as little assistance as possible is as important at home as it is when a person is at work, school, or enjoying recreational activities.

Therefore, functionality in a variety of situations depends on the life skills that a person develops over time. For each person and his or her disability, this means different things. A person with minor to moderate physical disability may practice modified methods of completing daily tasks; those with severe disabilities may employ assistive devices or require help from an assistant.

What all people have in common, with or without a disability, are the basic life skills that allow us to thrive must be cultivated. Those with differing levels of ability are charged with the same tasks and responsibilities as anyone else if they choose to live independently.

What are life skills?

Life skills range from those that are societal norms, such as self-care, to those that sustain life, such as preparing food. From a broad perspective, being adept at life skills with minimal assistance enhances a person’s daily living, and overall quality of life.

The benefits of mastering essential life skills include:

  • Greater potential for independent living
  • Capability to obtain and maintain employment
  • Potential for more satisfying relationships
  • Acumen to manage a home, finances
  • Ability to live a healthier life
  • Proficiency to look after one’s personal needs without assistance
  • Reduced dependence on government or social programs

Why are life skills so important?

Life skills are considered the fuel that powers life; without the ability to survive and thrive, it would be difficult to lead a productive life. Daily living requires that people complete certain tasks; these are physical in nature, intellectual, and they’re related to a person’s quality of life.

People with disabilities learn, from the time they are young, how to work within their physical and intellectual capabilities. This means two terms that many people of differing levels of ability learn to understand: Compensate and modify. When this is achieved, it’s the beginning of the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Does mastering these skills mean that a person must learn to do everything on his or her own? No, it doesn’t. However, a person that needs assistance must be aware of what tasks are a challenge, and be able to manage the situation.

The benefits of cultivating life skills include:

  • Making friends
  • Building social, professional ties
  • Participating in employment
  • Developing responsible behaviors
  • Cultivating self-esteem, self-worth
  • Fostering interests, hobbies
  • Creating opportunities for independence, with or without supports
  • Assuming an adult role in the community

What essential skills are required at home, at work, and in public?

At home is where most people take care of 90 percent of the tasks they need to complete. It’s where a person showers, sleeps, fills out an online job application, or ponders his or her next big move. In short, a person’s home is their sanctuary, and a nerve center.

But managing a home is a process that requires physical skills, and intellectual acumen. Not only are self-care skills required to prepare for the day, there are the responsibilities of home upkeep. Financial obligations such as paying for repairs, paying bills, and managing money are also imperatives in terms of a functional household.

Some of the self-care skills that are required within the home, and outside of it, include:

  • Personal hygiene
  • Dressing and undressing
  • Washing clothes, taking clothes to cleaners
  • Toileting
  • Grooming

At home, a person will also need to masters skills to maintain their health. These include:

  • Meal planning and preparation
  • Grocery shopping, choosing foods
  • Eating and drinking
  • Adhering to a medication schedule
  • Committing to exercise, movement
  • Using the phone to seek medical assistance, if needed
  • Managing personal care assistants, if applicable
  • Practicing first aid, safety measures

Physical skills that are needed at home include:

  • Housekeeping, domestic skills
  • Ability to keep up a home, or find providers
  • Navigating a home, creating usability
  • Entering and exiting a home
  • Identify strange odors, sounds, situations
  • Organizing all needed tools and objects in a way that works

Intellectual and psychological skills required to manage a home include:

  • Money management, budgeting, banking
  • Interviewing, interacting with attendants
  • Implementing an emergency plan
  • Emotional self-regulation coping alone or with guests
  • Managing time

At work, many of the life skills learned will be immensely beneficial. However, interpersonal skills are an integral factor in building a successful career.

People with disabilities already face significant barriers when it comes to employment. Even if a person has worked hard to cultivate skills that are in demand in the marketplace, people with special needs still face a jobless rate of roughly 40 percent, according to several studies.

Appropriate life skills, in combination with job training and higher education, can mean the difference between making a living or depending on social programs. Because many people with disabilities are just as capable as others by using modified means to complete tasks, there’s no reason employment has to be an obstacle. The higher level of education or skill a person has, the easier he or she will find and keep gainful employment.

Interpersonal skills that are required in the workplace include:

  • Ability to apply for jobs, follow up with managers
  • Capability to interact socially, or people skills
  • Ability to communicate affectively
  • Capacity to empathize with others
  • Proficiency to manage stress, anger
  • Ability to use technology
  • Capability to follow instructions
  • Capability to negotiate, handle conflict
  • Ability to accept responsibility, criticism
  • Ability to cope with change, adversity
  • Understanding concepts like filling out paperwork, punctuality
  • Ability to be assertive, cultivate confidence
  • Capability to maintain organization, manage time

Functional skills that are required in the workplace include:

  • Ability to communicate verbally, or by alternate means
  • Physical capability to complete tasks
  • Desire and proficiency to work with minimal help
  • Ability to present oneself as professional, capable to work
  • Capability to work independently, or as part of a unit
  • Ability to commute to and from the work site, navigate sidewalks and crosswalks

Outside of the home and the workplace, all of these skills are vital. When it comes to participating in society from a social perspective, a new set of skills comes into play. Building relationships in the community, volunteering, and other activities require skills sets both functional and intellectual that for many people don’t come naturally. People with special needs are often shy; developing confidence can also be a challenge that is not easily overcome.

If people with special needs develop skill sets that help them connect with others; they will participate in activities outside the home that are meaningful, and enjoyable. Studies show that people with special needs often report feeling isolated; this is a significant source of stress. Developing skills that encourage interaction reduces the chance of a person having to go it alone.

The interpersonal skills that are helpful in society include:

  • Capability to choose friends
  • Ability to choose activities
  • Capability to contribute to conversations, activities
  • Ability to listen, respond and react

The functional skills that are helpful in society include:

  • Ability to travel to and from the homes, obtain transportation
  • Capability to hold onto money, pay for goods or services
  • Ability to navigate spaces indoors and outdoors

Where are life skills developed?

Life skills are developed in several settings, including medical and therapeutic and education. Sometimes, skill sets are also developed if a person takes as part in specialized training offered by non-profit agencies.

Where the skills are developed, is dependent on what skills are being taught. Physical skills allow people to move from place to place and are most often cultivated within a physical therapy setting. Others skills, such as self-care, eating, or writing are developed in occupational therapy because they involve fine motor skills.

Most often, a child’s skill set is developed and nurtured at school. All of those tasks that are needed to thrive in society or at home are affected by a child’s transition plan, which is a large component of his or her Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. These services are required by the IDEA law.

A transition plan is designed to address a child’s conventional education, as well as task development and job skills. Transition planning gives educators an opportunity to assess a child to find out what services will best prepare him or her for life after school. The transition plan may be called an Individualized Transition Plan, or ITP. This plan should be implemented by the time a child turns 14 years old.

The transition plan identifies:

  • What vocational training may help a child
  • What type of work, activities interest a child
  • A child’s strengths and weaknesses
  • A child’s activities and training for post-school life

A transition plan is typically divided into age appropriate steps designed to make sure that any plan is focused on workable goals. The five stages begin when a child begins attending classes and end when a child is about 22 years old or older. At the end stage, a child should be prepared for work, or go to college, depending on a person’s goals.

The five stages are:

  • Growth stage – Helping a child develop a healthy self-image, introducing the concept of a career or work, teaching children positive attitudes and work ethics. This step lasts until a child is 10 years old.
  • Capacity stage – Helping adolescents learn more about their abilities and how they apply to the workplace, and how they will translate to independent living at home. Helping young people learn how to make decisions, take responsibility and solve problems. Teaching children how to recognize work benefits and pay. This stage lasts until a young person is 14 years old.
  • Exploration stage – Encouraging a child to understand and celebrate his or her own desires and aspiration. Helping young people identify career and educational goals. This stage lasts until a child is 17 years old.
  • Transition stage – A young person makes a choice regarding continuing education, vocational training, or work. Entry-level job skills are learned. This stage lasts until a young person is 21 years old.
  • Trial stage – The final stage is where a young person follows through with goals, using the tools they have learned. This includes actively searching for jobs, resume preparation and possibly identifying a place to live.

At all stages, the following components are stressed in instructional settings:

  • Choosing an occupation
  • Understanding whether some tasks will require assistance at home and at work
  • Learning about obligations such as bill payment, budgeting
  • The importance of social interaction
  • Learning to break down large tasks into smaller, manageable tasks
  • The importance of maintaining health and fitness
  • Determining a course of action that is achievable for a young person

These concepts are taught using several strategies, including:

  • Classroom work
  • Interactive and technological exercises
  • Volunteerism
  • Role-playing exercises
  • Group and individual discussions
  • Physical and intellectual assessments
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Mock interviews
  • Group activities that encourage peer-to-peer interaction
  • Field trips
  • Discussions with family members and caregivers

What types of services are available to assist people in cultivating life skills?

Because people may not be able to tap into all of the services, they may needs there are agencies in the community that may provide assistance in developing skills. Generally, these skills courses are offered by community agencies and non-profit organizations.

Supplemental training and services are provided by:

  • Adult day training programs
  • Community living services
  • Residential facilities

Often, demonstrating proficiency regarding life skills may include securing help. People can still exercise their skills if they are living at home, or if they use the services of personal care attendants. Non-profit groups, or professional provides, fill skills gaps for people who still need assistance with the basics.