BCBAs can make a positive difference in the lives of people with autism spectrum disorder. Self-help skills are an essential area of functioning that greatly impacts one’s quality of life. BCBAs have the tools and knowledge to help people develop self-help skills.

5 Tips for Promoting Self-Help Skills in Clients with Autism

We’ll share 5 recommendations for how Board-Certified Behavior Analysts can support self-help skills in their ABA clients with ASD.

Assess current skills and create meaningful goals

The first step in promoting self-help skills in clients with autism is to complete a thorough assessment of the client’s self-help skills. You can do this with the use of formal assessment tools, parent interviews, observations of the client engaging in self-help tasks, and interviewing the client.

After the assessment is complete, BCBAs should create socially significant goals for their clients. In other words, it is important to create meaningful goals. Develop goals that are important to the client and/or to their caregiver. Goals should make a positive impact on the client’s daily life.

Create a daily schedule that includes self-help skills during ABA sessions

To promote your clients’ self-help skills as a BCBA, incorporate the client’s self-help skill goals into their ABA sessions. Be sure to individualize how your client practices their self-help skills. Some clients benefit from more structured approaches to learning self-help skills while other clients will benefit more from taking a natural environment training approach. No matter the teaching approach you start with, it is important to help the learner generalize their new skills to their natural environment.

Some self-help skills that could be included in your client’s ABA sessions include brushing teeth, washing hands, taking care of personal belongings, making a snack, brushing hair, taking shoes off and putting them on, tying shoes, and much more.

Address self-help skills in parent training

Parents play a pivotal role in helping develop self-help skills in their children. BCBAs can support parents and caregivers in this area by providing parent training services. In parent training, BCBAs can teach parents and caregivers strategies for helping children develop self-help skills.

Some of the tasks and concepts to include in parent training specifically related to promoting self-help skills include:

  • Shaping – how to systematically and gradually improve a particular self-help skill including how to identify successive approximations of the target goal
  • Reinforcement – how to increase a child’s independence and participation in self-help activities
  • Modeling and Imitation Training – how parents and caregivers can demonstrate self-help skills to their children and how to work on getting children to imitate these skills
  • Response Effort – reducing the response effort (making it easier) for children to complete certain self-help skills

Use task analysis to teach self-help skills

A task analysis is a breakdown of the specific steps within a larger, more complex activity or behavior. A task analysis is a great tool to use with self-help skills. When developing a task analysis for self-help skills, it is important to consider the learner’s current abilities and needs. This will determine how detailed the task analysis needs to be or which areas of the task analysis need to be broken down more intricately. A task analysis can help you monitor the client’s progress. It can also help you to determine where they struggle so that you can address this in your interventions and modify the treatment plan.

Use visual supports to encourage self-help skills

Many children with autism benefit from visual support when learning new skills or even in daily life when completing everyday tasks. Visual supports help children, teens, and adults with autism to be more independent, to be more efficient, and complete tasks more accurately.

Many children with ASD can benefit from using visual supports when learning self-help skills. Some of these visual supports can be faded over time and some of them can be a tool that the individual incorporates into their everyday life to help improve their quality of life.

Some examples of visual supports that can be used to promote and maintain your clients’ independence with self-help skills include:

  • Picture schedule – to represent the activities the individual should do in their daily routine
  • Activity schedule – to represent the steps within the specific activity that the learner can follow while completing that self-care task
  • Labels – to designate the location of items needed for specific self-help skills (i.e., labeling clothing drawers with words and/or pictures to indicate where specific clothing items such as shirts, pants, and underwear, can be found)

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Age Guidelines for Self-Help Skills

Although each child is unique, we’ll provide some guidance related to the general age recommendations for specific self-help skills. These are only guidelines that are based on typically developing children and adolescents. However, be sure to consider, your client’s developmental level, needs, and abilities when creating goals and establishing expectations.

2-3 Years

  • Cooperates with parental help to get dressed
  • Begins to remove and put on clothing
  • Attempts to brush teeth (although not thoroughly yet)
  • Attempts to wash body in the bath when instructed to do so
  • Feeds self with silverware
  • Can put away some personal belongings when told
  • Learning to wash hands properly

3-4 Years

  • Independently gets dressed
  • More independent with bathing (but may need some assistance with washing or rinsing hair)
  • Fully potty trained
  • Learning to brush hair
  • Can get own snack if easily accessible
  • Cleans up after meals (i.e., takes care of dishes, throws away trash)

5-6 Years

  • Can tie shoes
  • Independent with bathing (although the caregiver may need to monitor the quality of bathing tasks)
  • Can take care of personal belongings
  • Can gather personal belongings when told
  • Brush teeth independently
  • Use microwave (with supervision)
  • Follow a morning routine with less guidance from an adult

6-7 Years

  • More independence with cooking, opening food items, etc.
  • Self-soothing (less need for adult support when it comes to winding down at bedtime, calming down, etc.)
  • Packing needed items for leaving home (such as going to school, etc.)
  • Following a daily routine with some guidance from an adult

7-8 Years

  • More abilities with household chores
  • More independence with schoolwork
  • Greater time management skills
  • Preparing simple meals
  • Asking for help when needed

9 Years and Older

  • Managing money
  • Cooking
  • Choosing clothing appropriate for weather or events
  • Hygiene skills
  • Shaving (if applicable)
  • Managing periods (for females when applicable)
  • Organizing and maintaining the cleanliness of one’s belongings and environment
  • Basic first aid when a common injury or illness occurs
  • Problem-solving skills (complexity based on age and abilities)
  • Staying safe in person
  • Staying safe online
  • Coping skills to manage emotions
  • Setting and working toward personal goals

Support for Quality ABA Services

Self-help skills are just one area of ABA that contribute to helping your clients improve their quality of life. ABA is a complex field that can have a great impact on people’s lives.

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