An Introduction to Self-help Skills
WHAT ARE SELF-HELP SKILLS?
Self-help skills (also known as self-care skills, independent skills, daily living, or life skills) are basic everyday skills that a person needs to have in order to live independently. Typically developing children pick up self-help skills readily through daily exposure to their routines at school or in their homes. Although they might need some level of support from school teachers or their caregivers, most of them do reach a level of independence in these daily living skills as they mature.
Examples of these self-help skills include: eating, getting dressed, brushing teeth, going to the toilet, etc.
WHY DO CHILDREN WITH AUTISM HAVE DIFFICULTIES LEARNING SELF-HELP SKILLS?
On the other hand, children with Autism face learning difficulties due to various factors e.g. poor language and understanding, interfering self-stimulatory behaviors, inability to sustain attention, etc. As a result, most of them do not acquire self-help skills in the same way as their peers.
Therefore, parents, caregivers, and teachers might find themselves having to facilitate many aspects of their child’s daily life routines to get by day to day. This reduces your child’s level of independence and can also be exhausting for the caregivers, both physically and mentally.
This table gives a good overview of the self-help skills that children should be able to do with some assistance from adults according to their age.
DAILY LIVING SELF-HELP SKILLS CHECKLIST BY AGE:
WHY ARE SELF-HELP SKILLS SO IMPORTANT TO WORK ON?
Develops your child’s memory and sustains his/her attention
First, self-help skills work on developing your child’s memory and sustained attending due to the nature of the skill. As most self-help skills consist of multiple steps over a duration of time, your child is required to remember the sequence of the skill, consistently pay attention in order to remember which step of the self-help skill he is on, and move on to the next step accurately.
For example, when your child is learning how to dress himself, he needs to remember to put on his underwear, followed by his pants. Likewise, for showering, your child needs to remember to pump shampoo to apply it to his hair, before performing the steps to wash his hair. All these work on the sustaining of attention and memory which is highly important for any developing child.
Develops your child’s organization of their thought process
Also, self-help skills also encourage the organization of your child’s thought process, which is an important skill for developing your child’s executive functioning. When your child performs a self-help skill like packing his bag, he will need to plan what is required to go into the bag according to what he needs for the day, as well as where the items are kept in order for him to retrieve them for packing.
If your child is following a packing list, he will need to be systematic and organized in going down the list to make sure he packs everything into his bag. All these work on the planning and organization of your child which is pivotal in his development and journey to independence.
Develops your child’s independence and confidence
Lastly, self-help skills encourage independence and confidence in our children. By teaching our children the basic skills they require for school and at home, our children will be more equipped to handle their daily routines and this in turn boosts their self-esteem and confidence to be independent in their daily routines. As they gradually gain independence, caregivers will also experience less stress from having to facilitate the daily living skills that were once dependent on them.
A COMMON QUESTION FROM ASD PARENTS:
"HOW DO I TEACH MY CHILD SELF-HELP SKILLS?"
5-STEP GUIDE TO TEACH YOUR CHILD SELF-HELP SKILLS / INDEPENDENT SKILLS
Step 1: Identify a functional self-help skill
The skill should be developmentally appropriate for your child.
- For example: A 3-year-old child will not be expected to shower independently. Instead, a more appropriate skill to pick will be removing or wearing slip-on shoes and socks.
- Tip: If it’s the first time your child is learning a self-help skill, pick something that is meaningful and less challenging for your child so as to build a fun learning experience. e.g. if my child enjoys meal time, I might teach him how to feed himself independently
Step 2: Task Analysis
Break the skill down into smaller parts according to your child’s ability. Every child learns differently and there will be no one size fits all method to break down a skill.
- Tip: Personally try out the steps of the skill that you want to teach. This will help you to see which steps might be challenging for your child, and which areas might need a further breakdown
Step 3: Chaining
Start teaching the skill 1 step at a time and add on an additional step each time your child masters the previous step. You can start teaching either from the first step of the skill (forward chaining) or the last step of the skill (backward chaining) depending on the learning style of your child.
- For example: If your child has a low motivation, I might want to start from the last step of the skill so that your child sees the end product of the task sooner and will be more motivated to complete the task. On the other hand, if your child knows the first few steps of the task, you might want to consider teaching from the first step so as to increase your child’s confidence and motivation to complete the task.
Step 4: Prompt
Help your child by using prompts to speed up the learning process and reduce your child’s level of frustration. Pick a prompt that plays on your child’s strength.
- For example: If your child is a strong visual learner, a good prompt to pick might be a visual prompt where pictures of the different steps of the skill are pasted on the wall to remind him of the steps.
- Tip: Do this proactively before your child repeatedly fails at the task so that your child experiences success to make learning an enjoyable and not an aversive one.
Step 5: Repetition and Reinforcement
Have enough repeated practice so that your child is able to remember the steps of the skill. Reinforce your child to maintain your child’s motivation level in order for skill acquisition to occur.
- Tip: Do not overdo the practice till your child becomes frustrated. Intersperse the practice with other activities as well.