Teaching prosocial, functional and adaptive skills

Prosocial, Adaptive and Functional SkillsUnder the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students with disabilities have the right to receive a free and appropriate public education. This means that all students will receive the same academic opportunities as their typically developing peers.

As a special educator, you recognize that academic progress for your students with moderate to severe disabilities is important, but you also know it’s not the full picture.

Supporting prosocial, adaptive, and functional skills, among others, is key in helping your students reach their full potential and live as independently as possible one day.

What to teach

Teaching your students lifelong skills that will help them gain independence is key.

Where do we start? Let’s navigate what you can teach to help foster prosocial, functional and adaptive skills.

  • Life Skills: Incorporating functional life skills instruction in your classroom is a vital component in helping your students succeed in school and beyond. Teaching skills like basic communication, health & safety, grooming, and self-management will go a long way in helping your students to live as independently as possible.
  • Community Skills: Providing instruction on adaptive community skills will contribute to your students’ ability to become an active member in their community. Learning how to order at a restaurant, cross a street or attend an appointment will help your student meaningfully engage with others in the community.
  • Classroom Skills: Teaching essential pro-social skills for a classroom-based setting will help to boost your students’ independence and growth. Educating your students on your classroom schedule and expectations, social skills, how to interact with technology and transition times are all important classroom skills to be taught.

How to teach the skill(s)

Now that we’ve covered what to teach, let’s outline how to teach these prosocial, functional and academic skills.

You’ll want to task analyze your skill to collect a baseline before the skill is taught. This will show you where the skill level is for the learner, and what pieces you will want to focus on.

Now let’s breakdown how to teach the skill:

  •         Task analyze the skill: outline each step involved in completing the skill
  •         Collect a baseline: evaluate where the skill level is for the learner, and what pieces you will want to focus on
  •         Model each step of the task analysis: show your student how to complete each step of the skill
  •         Prompt when needed: offer cues when necessary
  •         Chain steps together: begin to link steps together to complete the skill sequence
  •         Fade away prompts: as you move through instruction, transition away from cues as appropriate
  •         Progress monitor along the way: frequently assess as you move through teaching the skill in order to gauge progress
  •         Teach to self-management: work through all of the steps of the task analysis until your learner is able to carry out the skill independently

After these steps are finished, continue to take data and monitor progress to guide your data-based decisions.


For prosocial, functional and adaptive skills, generalization plays a critical role. We want to make sure that not only can a student achieve this skill in the classroom with a teacher, but that they can use it outside of the classroom in the community, with peers, at a job, etc.

Programming for generalization inside and outside your classroom can be done in several different ways, including:

  • Multiple exemplar training: using a number of different stimuli while teaching in order to boost your learner’s ability to recognize when objects are related. For example, showcasing coffee mugs, paper cups and plastic drinkware to help your students draw the connections learn that all of these can be used to make a drink
  • Programming Common Stimuli: Ensuring that you are using as much stimuli as you can in the teaching environment that will be present in the generalization environment. For example, teaching a student to set the table using real silverware.
  • Teaching Loosely: promote generalization by switching up the time of day, teacher, materials, or anything else! For example, if you generally teach one particular skill in the morning, try teaching the same skill in the afternoon to switch gears.

Using the methods above to encourage generalization will help promote learning across different environments.

At the end of the day, teaching prosocial, functional and adaptive skills will help set your students up for long-term success. What else are you doing to teach these skills in your classroom? We’d love to hear from you!

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