5 Life Skills Autistic Teens Are Taught (But Typical Teens Aren't)

Laundry. Getty

 As the mom of an autistic teen, I've worked through more than my share of "adaptive skills" assessments -- as has my son.  Adaptive skills are those skills that allow you to live a full life (including work, transportation, hobbies, finances, hygiene, household management, and so forth) without support. 

If you really think about it, the number of skills required to do EVERYTHING all on your own is vast.

  Not only do you need planning and research skills, but you also need specific training in a wide range of specialized fields such as accounting, household and auto repair, cooking, relationship management, employment skills...  the list goes on and on.

Few of us, autistic or not, have anything like a full complement of adaptive skills.  Which is why very few of us really and truly manage entirely on our own -- and why there are contractors, taxi drivers, accountants, handymen and women, plumbers, life coaches, therapists...  not to mention parents, husbands, wives, and friends who have skills we lack.

But while "typical" individuals have to figure out how to write a check or use fabric softener on our own, teens with special needs usually get special help with the process of developing adaptive skills. What that means, in part, is that teens with autism are learning how to live their lives independently while typical teens (and adults) may have no such training.


Here are just a few of the adaptive skills our autistic teens may be actively taught at school or in other settings as part of their transition process.  Of course, many parents do teach these skills -- but, in my experience, many don't!

  1. Laundry.  When I was in college, several of the boys were shocked to discover that bedsheets and underwear had to be actively collected, washed, dried, and put away.  My 18 year old with autism has been handling these chores for years.
  1. Transportation.  If you're not driving, how do you get around?  The answer requires planning, research, and the use of fairly complex schedules.  You also need correct change.  People with no special needs often find themselves on the wrong bus with the wrong change -- because no one explained the rules of the road to them.  Meanwhile, "Transportation Training" is a part of many transition programs for kids on the spectrum.
  2. Cooking and Food Shopping.  Sure, teens can shove a packet of nachos into the microwave.  But do they know how long to leave the microwave running before the nachos burn?  Do they have any idea how to select items at the grocery store, pay for them, bag them, and put them away?  Many of the skills are taught to youngsters with special needs -- but not to their typical peers.
  3. Employment Skills.   Typical teens go to vocational school or college in order to "learn to think," or to learn work skills such as coding, carpentry, graphic design, and so forth.  But where in the curriculum is "how to write your resume," "how to respond to difficult situations in the workplace," "how to dress for a job," "how to make friends with your workmates?"  In most cases, these skills are NOT taught -- and, as a result, many young people find themselves struggling to land a job or manage the expectations of the workplace.  Youngsters with autism, however, are generally offered multiple supports and training opportunities to ready them for success in the work environment.
  1. Social Skills.  If you think it's just kids with autism who need help with social skills, think again!  Young adults (and middle aged adults as well!) struggle with finding and keeping solid relationships at all levels.  What's the right amount of information to share with a boss?  When does flirting end and stalking begin?  What do friends do together?  These are issues that are addressed in social skills groups and programs for teens on the spectrum -- but typical teens are left to work it out on their own, often with disastrous results.

Continue Reading