Fostering Life Skills in Transition-Age Students

Fostering life skills in transition-age student with Down syndrome.

Think about your everyday life as an adult involved in your community. What do you do? What skills do you need to have to go, for example, grocery shopping? Or to a restaurant?

For students with disabilities, life skills – the skills needed to manage selfcare, are correlated with improved education, employment and independent living outcomes.

Personal hygiene, managing finances and participating as an active member of the community are all considered life skills.

Read on to learn more about how you can help foster these essential life skills for transition-age students.

Opportunities to practice

Once you’ve taught your students a skill, it’s important to provide lots and LOTS of opportunities for them to practice.

What’s even more important, though? Providing these opportunities to practice in a variety of settings, with a variety of people, and using a variety of materials to ensure these skills are generalizing and can be completed regardless of environment.

Keep in mind, even when these skills are mastered, they still need to be practiced to ensure that they are being maintained over time (e.g., 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 4 months, 9 months).

Capitalize on Natural Motivation and Reinforcement

When providing opportunities to practice these skills, it’s helpful to contrive motivation for students to actively participate. You wouldn’t just start cooking breakfast if you weren’t hungry, or had just eaten lunch, would you?

Think about when you would naturally engage in a life skill and try to set up those same opportunities for your students.

Not only will they be more motivated to try the skill, but they will be naturally reinforced.

For example, if a student is learning how to make pasta, they will be most motivated when they are hungry! After they make the pasta, they will be reinforced by getting to eat the pasta.

You can see more skill – motivation – reinforcement examples here:

Community-based instruction

Another great way to practice life skills with your students is through community-based instruction.

With community-based instruction, students have the opportunity to experience real-life scenarios in a natural environment, such as:

  • Going to a grocery store and shopping for specific items
  • Ordering from a menu at a restaurant
  • Attending a doctor’s appointment
  • Counting money and paying for a product at the pharmacy.

Not only can community-based learning help your students feel a connection to their communities, but it also helps generalize skills to help them be successful in their everyday lives.


Giving students the skills to manage their day-to-day lives is critical. If they will only cook a meal when prompted by an adult around them, are they going to be able to have independence? When thinking about self-management, try:

  • Creating a schedule to follow
  • Using a checklist
  • Teaching how to self-prompt (think, knowing how to use YouTube to look up how to fix a toilet)
  • Problem solving


Assistive technology, or any device used to improve functional capabilities, can also play a critical role in your students’ ability to self-manage and actively participate in their community.

For example, a student with a physical disability may need a wheelchair in order to be mobile in the community, or perhaps a student who is nonverbal may use a communication aid to express their needs with others.

As special educators, helping your students become active members of their communities, to the greatest extent possible, is an ultimate goal, right? Well, providing lots of opportunities to practice skills, capitalizing on natural motivation and reinforcement, implementing community-based instruction, teaching self-management and ensuring proper accessibility will be key in doing just that!

We’d love to hear from you – how else are you teaching life skills in your classroom?


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