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How to Teach Life Skills for Developmentally Delayed Teenagers

by Nannette Richford, studioD

Life skills refer to skills every person needs in order to be independent in life. While some skills, such as cooking or cleaning, can be done by someone else, skills such as taking a shower or making an emergency phone call are important for every person to learn. Sometimes, developmentally delayed teens need help to learn how to complete necessary life skills on their own. Which skills they need help with depends on the teen and his level of delay. Common life skills taught to developmentally delayed teens include making purchases, making phone calls when needed and learning to prepare food.

Make a list of the specific life skills your teen needs to learn. Prioritize the list by putting the most important skills first. Limit the list to three or four of the most important skills. This will vary depending on your teen and his needs.

Discuss the list with your teen and explain the reasons why they are important. Allow him to provide input or add skills that are important to him. If your teen receives special-education services at school, you may wish to discuss the list with his teacher or aide as they may wish to work on the same skills at school.

Select the most important life skill. Although you can teach more than one skill at a time, if your teen is resistant or finds the concept threatening, focusing on one skill in the beginning is likely to be more successful. Others can be added when your teen demonstrates mastery of the first skill.

Create a task analysis of the skill. A task analysis breaks the skill down into individual steps that must be accomplished to complete the task. For example, to make a phone call in an emergency, your teen needs to know where to locate a phone, what number to call, how to dial the phone, how to identify himself on the phone, what information to give the emergency personnel, how to verify that help is on the way and what to do while he waits for help to arrive.

Check that your teen can complete each step in the task analysis. Teach any skills necessary to complete the task before asking your teen to attempt the identified task on her own.

Make a list using each identified task as a step. If your teen has difficulty reading written language, use symbols or drawings (along with the words) to prompt him for each step. Keep all steps in the order they must be performed to complete the task.

Post the list in a visible area close to where your teen will perform the task. For example, if your teen is working on the skill of brushing his teeth independently, place the list beside the mirror or near the sink. If the skill involves being in a public place, such as making a purchase at a store, place the list on a clipboard or note card to be carried with him.

Monitor your teen's success in completing the task and note any areas that appear difficult and work on those specific skills. For example, if your teen has difficulty counting change, take time to practice at home before he attempts to make a purchase at a store.

Items you will need
  •  Note pad
  •  Pen
  •  Clipboard
  •  Note cards


  • As with all teens, your developmentally delayed teen may need prompting to complete tasks. Gradually reduce your assistance until he is able to perform the task on his own.

About the Author

Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with more than four years' experience in online writing. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in teaching 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.

Photo Credits

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