How to Promote Adaptive Communication & Independent Living Skills in Special Education

Promoting adaptive communication and independent living skills helps to improve the lives of disabled students.
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Imagine not being able to order a milkshake at your favorite restaurant or being unable to tell your doctor which part of your body hurts. For many individuals with communication deficits, these scenarios are realities of everyday life. By teaching and promoting adaptive communication and independent living skills in special education classes, teachers and parents can significantly improve the quality of life of students with disabilities.

1 Assess Needs

A skills inventory can help assess a student's needs.
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The best way to ensure that adaptive communication and independent skills instruction is useful to a student is to conduct a skills inventory. These inventories evaluate a student's communication and living skills in areas like hygiene, emergency and safety knowledge, interpersonal skills, housekeeping, transportation and money management. Teachers should also meet with the student and the parent to discuss their personal goals for adaptive communication and independent living skills so that instruction can target areas of need.

2 Model the Skill

Modeling independent living and communication skills is the best way to start teaching.
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One way to begin teaching a new independent living skill is for the parent or teacher to model it. Skills that require the student to speak with another person should be scripted and should not vary from the script until the student is able to generalize the skill. For example, if the student is learning how to order at a restaurant, the script should have the student order the same food every time. Parents should use every opportunity to model the skill outside of the classroom.

3 Simulated Practice

Simulated environments should resemble the real-world places as closely as possible.
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To develop independent living and adaptive communication skills, students should practice in a simulated environment. The simulated environment must closely resemble the real-world place as possible. For example, if the skill is to learn how to order at a restaurant, the classroom or home should have tables set with plates, utensils and menus. One person should be assigned the role of waiter and should come to the table to take the student's order. Feedback and prompts are given immediately.

4 Community Practice

Take students to grocery stores and restaurants to practice adaptive skills.
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It is vital that students are given the opportunity to practice their new independent living or adaptive communication skills in real-world situations. Parents and teachers should take students to grocery stores, restaurants, banks and community events to practice the skills they learn. Support should be minimal at this stage. Teachers and parents should only offer help if the student is struggling. Instead, the student must problem-solve and apply his training.

Based in Sacramento, Calif., Beth Wenbourne Katz has been writing about education topics since 2006. Katz has taught in the California public schools, working primarily with students with learning, behavioral and emotional challenges. She holds a Master of Arts in special education from San Diego State University.