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Special Education Life Skills

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Dec 8, 2010

Life skills are essential to job functioning, and they must be included in instruction for students with special needs. Several million individuals with learning problems are still denied the opportunity to engage in meaningful employment in the United States. Large numbers of students with disabilities, both high school graduates and dropouts, earn very low salaries (Edgar, 1988). These students do possess the potential to live and work in the community if they receive appropriate life skills instruction (Rusch & Phelps, 1987). However, without this instruction they often fail to hold their jobs. A life skills curriculum approach blends academic, daily living, personal/social, and occupational skills into integrated lessons designed to help students learn to function independently in society. 

What are Life Skills?

Life skills include a wide range of knowledge and skill interactions believed to be essential for adult independent living (Brolin, 1989). At present, many students with handicaps have special needs that are not being met. These students require education and support to learn these necessary behaviors. They must be able to dress and groom properly, use appropriate table manners, make decisions about money, and use transportation to get to work. The three major skill areas that need to be addressed are daily living, personal/social, and occupational skills. 

What are Daily Living Skills?

Many students with disabilities will marry and raise families. The majority will probably earn modest salaries; therefore, it is crucial that they learn how to manage a home, family, and finances as effectively as possible. Some states require that these skills be taught to students with special needs. Instructional responsibility lies with special educators, regular educators, parents, and peers. The following skills are some that have been identified as essential for independent adult living (Brolin, 1989): 

Managing Personal Finances

  • Count money and make correct change. 
  • Manage a savings and checking account. 
  • Maintain a personal budget and keep records. 
  • Demonstrate personal finance decision-making skills. 
  • Make responsible expenditures. 
  • Calculate and pay taxes. 
  • Use credit responsibly. 
  • Pay bills. 
  • Deal with renting or leasing.  

Selecting and Managing a Household

  • Perform or arrange for home maintenance. 
  • Perform housekeeping tasks. 
  • Plan and prepare meals. 
  • Fill out warranty cards for new appliances and mail them.   

Caring for Personal Needs

  • Exhibit proper grooming and hygiene. 
  • Dress appropriately. 
  • Obtain health care. 
  • Avoid substance abuse. 
  • Demonstrate knowledge of common illnesses, prevention and treatment. Maintain physical fitness, nutrition and weight. 

Safety Awareness

  • Identify safety signs. 
  • Identify unfamiliar odors. 
  • Identify unfamiliar sounds. 
  • Demonstrate knowledge and ability to evacuate a building in an emergency. Read and understand basic safety procedures. Obey safety rules when walking during the day or at night. 
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