Granny Smith Apples

Granny Smith Apples

Friday, 18 October 2013

Independent Living Skills or Academics?

 © Copyright Toby and licensed for reuse under thisCreative Commons Licence

  • Would you rather your child be able to follow directions or able to count from 1-10?
  • Would you rather your child be able to independently get ready for school in the morning or would you rather them be able to read?
  • Would you rather your child be able to communicate effectively using visuals or communicate with difficulty verbally?
  • Would you rather your child be able to live on their own or would you rather them have a high school leaving diploma?
These are the questions special needs parents can be faced with when discussing the kind of education they hope their children to have.  When the questions are posed in the above manner most parents will choose the first choice, an independent living skill.  Yet when it comes to formal schooling most parents still want teachers to focus on the  second choice, an academic skill.  Today I want to argue the importance of valuing independent living skills in formal education settings.  I want to challenge you to measure your child's progress not by their academic knowledge but by what they have learned to do for themselves.

What are independent living skills?  Basic skills include but are not limited to self-care (eating, dressing, toileting), self-regulation (ability to follow routine, direction and control actions) and effective social interactions.  The basic skills lead to more complex skills such as employability and the ability to live alone.

Independent living skills set the stage for academic learning.  When school starts in September, a teacher's primary focus is on teaching classroom routines and expectations.    Teachers recognize if students know and follow classroom routines and expectations an ideal learning environment for academics is promoted.  A student cannot learn if they are sweating in a warm jacket because they don't know how to unzip the zipper.  A student cannot learn if they haven't learned social cues of what sounds in the classroom are important to attend to.

As students learn academics, independent living skill are reinforced.   When I teach high school science, most students deem learning how to balance chemical equations as useless for their lives.  They are right.  Yet in the process of learning how to balance chemical equations, they have learned how to ask for additional help, train their brain to follow a routine and the importance of completing an unwanted task.  When I teach the alphabet, I don't teach it so students can identify individual letters.  I teach the alphabet so students can eventually recognize which bathroom door to use and learn how to read street signs to navigate an unknown neighbourhood.

It is a good thing if your special needs child is able to read or do long division.  It is ultimately better if your special needs child learns the skills needed to be as indpendent as he/she possibly can be.  Encourage your child to learn academics but push them to learn independent living skills.


  1. I want Lola to learn life skills during academic lessons. That was the way I learned life skills. My mom would homeschool me and my sister and lessons always had a touch of life skills thrown in.

    BTW- whats your name? I'm guessing your Canadian- am I right?