Teaching Functional Academic Skills

functional academic skills

I believe that learning as many functional academic skills as they are capable of is an absolute must for our special needs loved ones so that they may some day live as independently as possible.

Learning to function in and navigate throughout their communities is key to our special needs children and adults achieving their greatest degree of autonomy and self-determination.

A functional academic life skills program needs to be individualized and personalized, taking each student’s wants, needs, and abilities into consideration.

It’s my opinion that teaching concepts such as telling time,  recognizing and counting money, and memorizing a few strategic community sight words and survival signs words such as EXIT, LADIES ROOM, MENS ROOM, POISON, DO NOT ENTER and POLICE are excellent beginning, practical life skills goals for capable special needs students to learn.

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Steps to Teaching Independence

Once appropriate individualized goals are decided upon, all necessary materials should be gathered together and kept in a handy, easily accessible place. There’s nothing more distracting to students and sabotaging to a lesson than an unorganized teacher  running around searching for needed supplies during teaching sessions.

  1. Break down each goal into small incremental steps or lessons.
  2. Explain and demonstrate what you want your student to do.
  3.  Assist, prompt,  give hints, and if necessary, tell your student the correct answer so that he or she will be immediately successful. The Errorless Learning  method of teaching is paramount in ensuring success. In other words, set up each lesson so that your student cannot make a mistake, because we don’t want mistakes to be what is remembered!

Sample Lessons

Begin by using two identical sets of flash cards with pictures of animalz and have your child match them while you name them.

Make a set of flash cards of animals and their name and an identical set without the name  and have your child match them.

Print one set of color words in black and another in their correct colors and have your child match them.

Have your child match two identical sets of animal and color word flash cards.

Once you are satisfied that your child has mastered matching simple objects,  go through the same learning process using flash cards of the words or concepts that you have decided to teach your student.

The possibilities are endless! Try teaching the following concepts using matching. 

  • Clocks showing the hour and half hour
  • Coin discrimination
  • Coin amounts
  • Community and survival sight words

After  your student has demonstrated that he or she  consistently recognizes times, coin names, and coin amounts, you can begin teaching counting by ones and fives in preparation for more advanced time telling and money concepts such as:

  • After and before the hour and half hour
  • Counting out money amounts
  • Making change

Even more advanced functional academic goals to consider for some, might include:

  • Learning to read and follow recipes
  • Banking skills
  • Reading bus schedules.

What about rewards?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I personally think praise and the satisfaction felt from  goals met is all the reward necessary to keep the learning momentum going, but if you believe your student needs a little extra motivation than perhaps a more tangible reward might be helpful.

Please note: Absolutely never punish,  humiliate, yell, or speak in harsh negative tones during lessons or at any time at all for that matter!


The following links are affiliate links. Thanks for supporting us if you decide to purchase an item through one of my links!!
Out and About: Preparing Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders to Participate in Their Communities
Survival Signs and Symbols Learning Cards
Interactive Reading Books – Show Me a Sign
How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger’s
Functional Living Skills and Behavioral Rules Photo Software
Educational Insights Big Money 3-D Magnetic Coins and Bills
Moneywise Kids Game
Real Life Math
Judy Clock
Perfect Timing Game
You may want to go back and read:
Life Skills Goals for Independent Living Part One
Life Skills Goals for Independent Living Part Two

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