Applying Life Skills

14 Must have Life Skills for Teens

Adapted from the article "14 Must-have Life Skills for Teens: Don't let your child leave for college without mastering these life skills!" By Connie Matthiessen at

Applying Life Skills with Caleb

Recently, my supervisor asked how we could apply this article to our children with special needs. How do we work on helping our children to do what they can do without automatically assuming that they cannot? What could they do and how can we encourage them? How can we think about this during our summer when, perhaps, we have more time with our child/teen.

My son, Caleb, is 21, has cerebral palsy with spastic quadriplegic, and uses a power wheelchair. He can move his chair with only one finger of his left hand. So how do we apply this to him! Let's see! Now, this could be interesting.

1. How to do the laundry: Cleaning out their pockets, hot water or cold, sorting colors, and removing lint from the dryer.

If I am going to apply this to my son, he cannot do much of this, but he can tell you when to put clothes in the laundry and he can take the laundry to the laundry room if we pile it in his lap. Not so much the other things but it is something!

2. How to clean the bathroom: This includes what products and tools to use and which surfaces should not be ignored.

My son is a good supervisor and can tell you what to do and don't you dare miss a step! We can train him to tell us what to do!

3. How to plunge a toilet.

With my son, this just is not going to happen! The capability is just not there. Sorry!

4. Basic First aid and CPR: When and how to call 911.

Hmmm! Interesting scenario with Caleb! If someone is choking, having an asthma attack, or needs a band-aid or help, he probably is not going to help! His response is to laugh or get you to take the band-aid off and he cannot make a call! He does, however, know that when you go to the doctor, most of the time you go to the "CVS bank" [aka the drive up window!] to get medicine.

5. How to boil water—Encourage them to choose a couple of easy dishes to master. (Bonus if they actually include vegetables!) See them through from shopping to clean-up.

Caleb can break an egg and use the switch for the mixer, toaster or anything electrical. If he could get to the microwave, he might be able to push the buttons! I even saw the other day where you could cook rice in the coffee pot! He cannot do it but maybe someone could! Seriously, though, I have friend who has taught her son with autism to cook one meal a week. He is doing great!

6. How to Budget: Draw up a monthly budget based on how much money they'll have to spend each month. Discuss spending choices.

7. How to pay bills, manage a bank account, and pay taxes: Does your teen have a bank account yet?

8. How to use a debit or credit card.

My son has his own money and his own debit card but this is just not going to be a reality for him. He does not understand the value of money nor would he be able to handle a budget. He does know that you need money to buy things and that items cost money but that is as far as it goes. He would have to be monitored really well if was able to use it.

9. Basic Car maintenance: If you child has a car (and even if your teen will be riding in other people's cars), make sure they know what the car's various check engine lights means and what to do if they go on. There's no time like the present for kids to learn how to check oil, water, and tire pressure levels, find the spare and change a tire, and jump a car battery.

10. How to read a map

My son will not be able to drive but for him, there is nothing like a map. He loves maps, so whenever we go on trips, he has to have one! He used to be satisfied with a paper map but he has discovered mom's "map phone" and now he has to have that one! Heaven forbid if I need it! Also, remember that he loves to supervise so he could learn to tell you what happens when you have to change a tire and he KNOWS you must have seat belt on. He will remind you!

11. How to write a email.

My son is learning how to use a computer. He can read and could probably copy something. No, he is not going to write an email on his own.

12. How to manage their time and health.

Sleep is always elusive for Caleb even with medication but time is not. He knows when it is time for eating, certain TV shows, and days of the week. He is a creature of habit and it is very difficult to change his schedule because he knows what comes next!

13. Trusting their inner voice from stranger danger way back when to more recent scenarios.

14. How (and when) to ask for help: Make sure your teen knows they're not supposed to know how to do everything. There's no shame in not knowing. Capable, independent people became that way by asking for help when they need it!

For my son, neither of these are possible but for others they may very well be able to do these. Not all teens with special needs are going to go to college or have the ability to live on their own but for others this is possible. What about for your child? Are these things possible, do the need working on, or is it just not appropriate for them. As a parent, you know your child best and you know what is best for them. How do we adapt these thoughts for our children if they are on their "own"? I know, through the years, I have wanted my child to be like every typical child but the reality for him is that he is not capable of all the responsibilities that go with being on his own. Your child may be and you will need to look at these questions in a different way than me. Food for thought: How would you adapt these questions to you and your child's unique situation?

Published: Jun 14, 2017 12:00am