Life skills to help your disabled child become independent

Young disabled adults often do well when they can take control of their lives and become independent.

You may be unsure about how to help your child prepare for adulthood or how to teach the skills they need for independent living.

You might feel nervous and even a bit guilty about encouraging your child to become more independent. The idea of them moving out in the future can also feel like a challenge.

Talking to people with experience

Speak to disabled adults and parents of disabled adults with a similar condition to your child. This can help you understand the barriers they faced and how they tackled them. They might also be able to share any information and skills they found useful.

Explore the Scope online community

Starting early

When your child reaches 14, start to think about how they might live independently. Talk to them about their goals and plans for the future. Start teaching them basic life skills at home, even if they cannot to do the tasks themselves. This will help them become independent as they grow up.

This will also help you plan for education, accommodation and work.

Planning

Getting the right support or adaptations can take time. Talk with your child about what they want to do after education. Try planning together to help your child understand what they need to do and how they could do it. It may also help them to create other plans, either with you or by themselves.

If possible, talk about being independent and the options for moving out. This might include living:

  • alone with occasional support or a full-time carer
  • with a friend or partner
  • in full-time supported accommodation

This can be difficult to talk about if your instinct is to keep looking after your child. Supporting them to be independent can be the best way to help. Talking can also give you time to prepare for:

  • social funding and benefits
  • exploring what housing options are available
  • finding the right accommodation
  • joining a supported accommodation or residential care waiting list
  • getting aids and adaptations

It can also help you decide what life skills your child needs to learn.

Moving from DLA to PIP

Life skills

Teaching your child life skills and working with them to overcome barriers takes time. Let your child try things. You might be surprised what they can do now.

Try slowly changing your routine to give your child tasks that you would normally do for them. Work on a task at a time and let your child tell you when they need help. You could start with basic things like folding clothes or cooking a simple meal.

Around the home

Learning to be independent around the home can mean:

  • writing a shopping list and buying food
  • cooking and understanding healthy eating
  • being responsible for their routine, like setting alarms and going to school or work
  • personal hygiene, including handling food
  • cleaning and doing house chores (vacuuming, dusting)
  • looking after health, including taking medications and exercising

Learning to do something can help give your child the confidence to do other things. A reward system or pocket money can also help your child to try new tasks.

Planning budgets and managing money

How you and your child decide to manage money will depend on:

  • your child’s condition or impairment
  • where they live
  • if they’re working or receiving benefits
  • type of benefits (handling direct payments)
  • your child’s personality

Pocket money can help teach the value of money, saving for something and how much things cost.

When your child is older, try sharing how you manage budgets and any tools you use to help. Or you may need to manage your child’s income. Talk about a budget if you can. Decide how much will go on essentials, such as rent, bills and food. Then set an allowance for fun activities like going to the cinema or a meal out.

Pre-paid cards (Money Advice Service) can help your child manage money without a bank account.

United Response has a set of free easy read guides on finance jargon and budgeting.

Pay Your Way has useful information on the different payment methods.

Dosh has easy read guides to managing money.

Talking to people and socialising

If your child struggles with communication, encourage them to interact with people in restaurants or shops. Try getting them to ask for or point to their meal or pay for something they want. Repeating these tasks can help your child learn to do them on their own.

Making new friends and socialising can also help your child become more independent. Search for local activities or groups with them and talk about any barriers, like transport.

Also try getting your child to go to a few groups or activities before leaving education or home. This can help them feel comfortable there and get used to socialising independently. You might also want to talk about a roommate if you think they will get lonely after moving out.

Helping my child to make friends

Aids and adaptations

Aids and adaptations to help with daily tasks can include:

  • a specialist chopping board that will hold food in place
  • a food processor instead of a knife
  • an extendable duster
  • alarms that use light instead of noise
  • a flexible and lightweight vacuum or a robot vacuum

AskSARA is an online self-help guide with expert advice and information on products and equipment to help with daily activities.

Disability equipment and adaptations 

Learning aids

Your child can learn new tasks through:

Techniques for teaching disabled children skills

You could bring all of this together by: 

  • collecting favourite recipes they can cook
  • creating a checklist of the tasks they can manage alone
  • writing a list of things they need done for them. This will help your child and carers understand their needs

Making a life skills handbook

A 'life skills handbook' could help your child with daily tasks when you're not there. It could also help motivate them to do more things on their own. The handbook could include:

  • step-by-step instructions for everyday routines and weekly or monthly tasks, like putting a wash on, cleaning the house or paying bills
  • a ‘how to’ section for carers to understand your child’s specific needs

Work with your child to bring the handbook together and decide the best format for them. This could be:

  • whiteboards
  • planners
  • worksheets
  • picture stories or social stories to help them to understand social situations and changes
  • folders or binders (easily add and remove things that change)
  • videos
  • flashcards
  • phone or tablet apps
  • visual or vertical timetable
  • activity pictures, words or symbols
  • 'finished’ trays (a box or tray to signal an activity has been done)

You could also create a ‘passport’ of information or a one-page profile to help others understand what your child needs. This might be useful if your child is non-verbal or finds communication difficult. They can use it for school, college or university. It might also be useful for carers or staff providing services, like in a cinema, pub or restaurant.

Transition guides and information

Council for Disabled Children transition guides

Council for Disabled Children has transition information and support by topics. These include education, activities, employment, health and housing.

Preparing for Adulthood has a range of resources on independent living, employment, relationships and health.

Special Needs Jungle offers parent-led information and resources for children and young adults.

Our employment services can help your child prepare for work.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 09/01/2019

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