Tip: Teaching Life Skills – An Introduction

All of the following information in black fonts was prepared for grandparents by Alexandra J. Rogers, Ph.D., a member of GAN. Grandma Sandy is a licensed clinical psychologist in Orange County, California. In addition to professionally helping grandparents and parents understand how their children with autism think and how to motivate them, she devotes her time to her 9 year old grandson with ASD. You can find other helpful articles on her website: http://www.sandyrogersphd.com

Dr. Rogers gives special thanks to Donna Williams and Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay – adult persons with autism who took the time to write books about their lives; books which included descriptions of how they think and how they experience the world around them.

Why is it so important for grandparents to help?

Children and adults on the autism spectrum learn differently than others and the learning does not necessarily carry over to other situations and settings. To put it simply, telling our grandchild or demonstrating a behavior once or twice will not necessarily help them learn the behaviors or remember them. This makes grandparents so very important because we can teach similar behaviors in a variety of locations, and with different people, many times. Grandparents are rumored to be patient, which makes us great teachers, because we can repeat more slowly and many more times in order to teach and re-teach and re-teach in different settings.

What is required to teach a child with autism?

You will need persistence, patience, some knowledge about their style of learning and how to motivate them. The first segment educates you about how to help your grandchildren learn and retain skills, how to get their attention, and how to best motivate them. The second segment gives examples and tips on how to teach the different life skills. The third segment discusses the importance of communication.

Things To Remember When Teaching

Kids on the autism spectrum don’t have the capacity to know what you could be thinking. They have no concept of other people’s feelings or thoughts, so it does not occur to them to want to please you by doing something. However, they do want attention from loved adults in their life and get jealous of attention you give to siblings. They also respond to comments like “good job” or “high 5” after they’ve done some task. But first you have to make sure you have their attention. Generally, they do not pay attention to you unless you are holding their favorite food or the iPad or some electronic gadget they want. Even when you do speak directly to them, they still might not be listening or paying attention.

The reasons for that could be:

  • They are not really interested
  • They don’t know that you are talking to them
  • They are not looking at what you are demonstrating
  • They stopped listening to you after the first few words
  • They don’t have enough language knowledge to know what you are saying
  • They would prefer to go to their room and be left alone
  • They are focused on old movies or songs running in their head
  • They are focused on their headache or stomach ache

Why does it take so many repetitions in different places?

This lack of attention makes teaching anything new a challenge, and requires many repetitions in different environments, in order for the lesson to stick.

When you talk to people with autism who have some understanding of how they learn, you may find out that learning is sequential. First this happened, then the next thing happened, then the third thing happened. The sequence of events is saved in memory in that specific sequence for that specific environment.

For example, your grandchild’s parents may have taught him or her to clear their plate after dinner, rinse it and put it into the dishwasher. Unless you specifically teach the same behavior at your house, you will not see this behavior, because it has not generalized. It does not occur to them that a behavior learned in one place would be appropriate or required in another place, even though both places are a kitchen.