Kids of all abilities can learn important life skills and learn to help around the house. We just have to give them the opportunity to succeed. Here are tips to teach kids with special needs daily living skills.

Recently while I was helping my youngest son get ready, I heard a noise in the laundry room. My 8-year-old, non-speaking, son with autism was the only other person in the house, and fearing the worst, I rushed into the room. To my surprise and delight, my son was fine and trying to help me with the laundry by pouring liquid detergent into the washer. Sure, he poured a bit too much, but he had the right idea. Laughing, I praised him for his initiative, put the cap back on, and set the cycle to double rinse.

While this story could have ended in many other not-so-happy ways, I share it to make a point: Kids of all abilities can learn important life skills and help around the house—we just have to give them the opportunity to succeed.

I’ve been working on daily living skills with both my children for years, and here are our five guiding principles for success:

Start Simple
Although some part of me wants to push my kids and figure out “age-appropriate” chores, I’ve had much better success by taking small steps. I give simple directions and then scaffold skills. While I’d love to tell my son with autism something like: “Pick up your shoes, take them to the closet, and then hang up your coat,” that’s too much for a child who struggles with motor-coordination and receptive language. So, we work on small tasks like clearing a plate from the table or just picking up a pair of shoes. Then, we move on to the next task.

Follow Interests
My son with autism loves to eat and to play in the water, so when I’m teaching him practical daily living skills, much of what we do revolves around food and water. He helps me peel vegetables, grind coffee beans and make lunch; he moves wet clothes from the washer to the dryer; he pours water into pots and then I scrub them; he eagerly loads the dishwasher; and, he’s happy to brush his teeth. By focusing on what he’s interested in, I can build his interest in related skills.

This seems like common sense: If you want to build a skill in your child, it must be practiced. But it’s easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of normal life. It’s easy to get impatient and just do a task for my son—but while that saves me time now, it doesn’t help him in the future. One of my goals for him is as much independence as possible, and he’s never going to get there if I don’t let him practice the skills I teach him.

Be Sensible
When teaching daily living skills at home, I’m always asking myself: Is there an easier way of doing this? Can I promote independence and make this task a positive one for my son? When it comes to a tricky motor skill like tying shoes—something I think my son will be ready for in time and something we will practice slowly—I prefer to simplify. He wears slip-on Crocs almost every day, and he’s thrilled with them. They allow him to put his own shoes on and that independence helps him grow his confidence.

Be Patient
Patience is something all parents need most of the time, and I think that’s even more true when it comes to teaching daily living skills to a child with special needs. But it’s a good thing to remember. Be patient. Our children are trying to learn, grow and thrive as best they can. Sometimes they do better than others, but if we’re patient, that will go a long way towards their success and happiness.


Jamie Pacton blogs for a national parenting magazine and writes young adult and middle grade fiction. Learn more at