7 Must-Have Life Skills for Autistic Individuals

life Skills for Autistic Individuals

Life skills are abilities that help individuals effectively navigate daily tasks and interactions. For people with autism, developing strong life skills is critical for increasing independence and improving quality of life. Life skills enable people to care for themselves, interact with others, and function within society.

Some of the key reasons why life skills are so important for people with autism include:

Independence – By mastering basic life skills, people with autism can become more self-sufficient and rely less on caregiver support. Skills like personal hygiene, cooking, and money management lead to greater autonomy.

Confidence – Building competence in practical life skills boosts self-confidence and self-esteem. Accomplishing daily living tasks independently gives a sense of pride and achievement.

Social Participation – Strong life skills, especially social and communication abilities, allow for greater community participation. People can develop friendships, engage in group activities, and experience inclusion with appropriate skills.

Employment – Many life skills directly translate to workplace skills, increasing employment opportunities. Skills like following directions, time management, and organization are essential for succeeding at a job.

Safety – Mastering skills like pedestrian safety, understanding of dangers, ability to respond in an emergency, and seeking help when needed can prevent dangerous situations.

Quality of Life – Overall, life skills allow people with autism to effectively function day-to-day and participate meaningfully in activities they enjoy. This leads to a higher quality of life.

Some of the most important areas of life skills to focus on include communication, self-care, home living, socialization, and functional academics like managing money. Building skills in these domains empowers those with autism to live fuller, more independent lives.


1. Communication Skills

Teaching Communication Skills to Children with Hearing Loss

Communication can be challenging for autistic individuals. There are differences in both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Verbal vs Nonverbal Communication

Many autistic people have speech and language difficulties. They may have a hard time using and understanding verbal language. Some are nonverbal. Others have challenges with pitch, intonation, and volume of speech.

Autistic people also have differences in nonverbal communication. This includes eye contact, facial expressions, and body language. They may avoid eye contact or have unusual eye gaze. Reading and giving facial expressions and gestures may be difficult.

Reading Social Cues

Social cues are challenging for those with autism. These are the unwritten rules of social interaction that most people pick up on naturally. Autistic individuals often miss subtle cues like tone of voice, figures of speech, and body language. This makes it hard to understand what others are thinking and feeling.

Expressing Needs Appropriately

Because of differences in communication, autistic people may have trouble expressing their wants and needs. This can result in emotional outbursts or meltdowns. Teaching appropriate ways to communicate desires and feelings can prevent problematic behaviors.


2. Self-Care Skills

Personal Hygiene


One of the most important life skills for individuals with autism is developing self-care skills. This includes learning personal hygiene, dressing oneself, and eating properly.

Personal Hygiene

Maintaining good personal hygiene is essential for health and well-being. For some with autism, hygiene routines like brushing teeth, showering, washing hands, trimming nails, and more may need to be explicitly taught and regularly practiced. Using checklists, visual aids, and reward systems can help instill good habits. It’s also important to find hygiene products that accommodate sensory issues.

Dressing Oneself

Learning to dress oneself independently is a major milestone. Breaking down dressing step-by-step and practicing each piece – like putting on socks before shoes – helps develop this skill. Using adaptive clothing like velcro, elastic waistbands, and slip-on shoes can make dressing easier. Picture schedules detailing what to wear each day provide structure and guidance.

Eating Properly

Many with autism have restrictive diets or trouble regulating mealtime behavior. Building skills around proper nutrition, appropriate utensil use, family-style dining, and food preparation fosters healthy eating habits. Using visual supports like picture menus, social scripts, and structured meal plans helps consistently teach these skills. Occupational therapy can also help with sensory issues impacting eating.


3. Home Skills

Dietary Intervention For Autism

Home skills are essential for people with autism to live independently. Some key home skills to work on include:


  • Practice having the individual tidy up after themselves by putting away toys, clothes, dishes, etc. Provide praise and reinforcement when they demonstrate good cleaning habits.
  • Break down cleaning tasks like vacuuming, washing counters, cleaning the bathroom, etc. into step-by-step instructions. Use picture guides or checklists if needed. Start with having them do one step at a time.
  • Teach them how to properly use cleaning products and equipment safely. Supervise initially until you know they can handle cleaning responsibly.
  • Set up a cleaning schedule together – decide which chores will be done on which days. Help them remember by writing it down or posting reminders.

Doing Laundry

  • Show each step – sorting clothes, using the machine, adding detergent, folding, and putting away. Let them do it with you a few times.
  • Post written or visual instructions near the washing machine. Prompt them to follow each step. Offer help if needed.
  • Start with having them wash only their clothes. Slowly build up to including the whole family’s laundry.
  • Teach them how to spot and treat stains, do loads by temperature, and properly fold different items. Check that they are sorting laundry correctly.

Preparing Simple Meals

  • Decide on a few basic meals they can learn to make like sandwiches, salads, pasta, eggs, and smoothies. Break down the steps from gathering ingredients to serving the food.
  • Model and let them try making the meal with your guidance. Use pictures or write the steps down until they learn.
  • Focus on skills like using kitchen tools safely, measuring ingredients, following a recipe, and using the stove or microwave. Supervise for safety at first.
  • Teach healthy habits like washing hands and surfaces, cleaning as you go, and putting unused food away properly. Give feedback to reinforce good practices.
  • As they gain proficiency, step back and just monitor while they prepare the whole meal themselves. Offer help only when needed.
  • Expand the complexity of meals they can make as skills improve. But start simple to build confidence and independence in the kitchen.


4. Money Management

Autism Diagnosis Insurance

Money management is a critical life skill for those with autism to develop independence. Learning how to understand the purpose and value of money, make purchases, and budget funds promotes self-sufficiency.

Money’s Purpose

Grasping the role money plays in daily life is an essential foundation. Individuals should comprehend that money is earned through work and used to obtain goods and services. They need to recognize different denominations of cash and coins, and that money has set values. Using play money and role-playing real-world scenarios helps cement these concepts.

Making Purchases

Shopping necessitates many sub-skills like identifying needed items, comparing brands and prices, interacting with staff, paying properly, and handling change. Breaking these down into small steps and providing ample opportunities to practice builds confidence. Role-playing various purchase interactions establishes routines to follow. Payment methods from cash to cards to mobile apps should be introduced gradually.


Creating and sticking to a budget is key for managing limited funds. Individuals can start by categorizing common expenses like food, housing, transportation, and entertainment. Tracking spending by keeping receipts and recording purchases helps understand where the money goes. Setting savings goals and balancing wants versus needs are important lessons. Apps or spreadsheets help automate and visualize budgets. Ongoing guidance in making spending tradeoffs within a budget empowers independence.


5. Transportation Skills

Can You Drive with Autism

Having the ability to get around independently is an important life skill for individuals with autism. Being able to use public transportation safely, work towards getting a driver’s license, and follow traffic rules can greatly increase one’s independence and opportunities.

Using Public Transportation Safely

Many individuals with autism can learn to use public transportation successfully. This involves learning how to plan trips, purchase fares, find the correct bus or train, ride safely, and navigate transfers. Role-playing the steps with caregivers and starting with short, familiar routes can help build these skills. Creating visual aids and schedules can also provide needed support. With practice, many individuals with autism can master using buses, subways, and other public transit.

Getting a Driver’s License

Driving provides freedom and control over one’s schedule. Individuals with autism can work towards a driver’s license through driver’s education courses. These teach the rules of the road and provide practice behind the wheel. Some courses specifically help teens and adults with special needs learn to drive. When ready, students take a road test to get their license. Driving schools with instructors experienced with autism can help guide students through this process. With proper training and practice, driving can become an achievable goal.

Following Traffic Rules

To drive safely, individuals with autism need to learn traffic rules and regulations. Caregivers can review the meaning of signs, signals, lane markings, and laws. Driving schools provide ample practice following rules in real on-road situations. Role-playing traffic scenarios can also help prepare for a variety of situations. With consistent instruction, teens and adults with autism can learn how to properly follow traffic rules and laws. This allows them to drive independently while keeping themselves and others safe.


6. Social Skills

Social Stories for Autistic Children

Social skills are a critical area of development for individuals with autism. Interacting with others and building relationships can be challenging. However, social skills can be improved through focused teaching and practice. Some key social skills to work on include:

Making Eye Contact

Maintaining eye contact is an important nonverbal social skill. It shows interest, attention, and engagement. For many with autism, eye contact may feel unnatural or uncomfortable. Start by practicing brief moments of eye contact in a 1-on-1 setting. Slowly increase the duration and work up to using eye contact in conversations. Provide positive reinforcement when eye contact is made.

Starting Conversations

Initiating conversations and small talk is difficult for some autistic individuals. Help them learn conversation starters like “How are you?” or commenting on the surroundings. Have them practice starting interactions, taking turns, and maintaining the flow. Model appropriate responses and topics. Provide scripts or visuals if needed. Start with low-pressure situations.

Developing Friendships

Building meaningful friendships involves complex social awareness and interaction. Break down the different aspects step-by-step. Teach how to join conversations or groups, share interests, show empathy, respect boundaries, handle conflicts, and arrange get-togethers. Role-playing and peer mentoring can provide valuable practice. Focus on quality over quantity of friendships.

With dedicated practice of social skills, individuals with autism can better connect with those around them. Patience and support from family, therapists, teachers, and peers allow social skills to gradually improve over time. Mastering these skills leads to greater confidence, relationships, and independence.


7. Job Readiness Skills

Finding employment can be challenging for those with autism, but it is possible with the right preparation and support. Focusing on job readiness skills is key to setting up for success.

Finding Employment Opportunities

  • Utilize resources designed to help those with disabilities find job opportunities, such as vocational rehabilitation services, job coaches, or employment networks. They can help with the job search process.
  • Look for roles that align with your strengths and interests. Jobs involving repetitive tasks, minimal social interaction, or special interests tend to be good fits.
  • Seek out companies known for hiring neurodiverse employees. Some have formal programs in place.
  • Consider what accommodations could be useful and request them during the hiring process or once employed. Things like written job instructions, noise-cancelling headphones, or flexible schedules.


  • Research typical interview questions and practice responses. Rehearse with a job coach or family member.
  • Be upfront about communication preferences and needs. Let the interviewer know the best way to phrase questions.
  • Address challenges positively by focusing on strengths and accommodations that can help overcome difficulties in the workplace.
  • Ask about the job culture and work environment to assess fit. Inquire about sensory issues like noise and lighting.

Succeeding in the Workplace

  • Request a clear outline of job duties, performance goals, and the training process. Written instructions are helpful.
  • Identify a mentor or supervisor willing to answer questions and provide feedback. Frequent check-ins ensure understanding.
  • Set reminders for daily tasks and keep a schedule if challenges with time management or organization arise.
  • Find ways to minimize sensory issues or distractions in the work environment. Noise-cancelling headphones, telework options, or a quiet space can help.
  • Rehearse and role-play interactions with colleagues. Social stories or scripts prepare for common workplace conversations.
  • Seek accommodations if challenges emerge. Additional training, adjusting job duties or schedules, and providing written instructions or checklists can aid in success.



Acquiring life skills is crucial for children with autism to gain independence and improve their quality of life. This article covered several key life skill areas that require focus, including communication, self-care, home skills, money management, transportation, social skills, and job readiness.

It’s important to start teaching these skills as early as possible, providing lots of repetition and practice in real-world settings. Don’t wait until the teen or young adult years to start working on skills like using public transportation, handling money, or doing chores. Beginning intensive life skills training in childhood will lead to greater mastery and independence down the road.

At the same time, ongoing support is needed even after initial skill acquisition. Maintaining and generalizing abilities across various contexts requires continued coaching and reinforcement. Work with therapists, teachers, job coaches, and other professionals to provide this ongoing support network. Adapt skills training as the child grows up and faces new environments and expectations.

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