Taking the opportunity to teach students the necessary functional life skills during speech and language therapy sessions is my absolute favorite area to target. Many of our students will continue to struggle with attention, memory, and executive functioning skills that will negatively affect their ability to store, process, and retrieve information as easily as others. Although it is important to target and support academic skills, it is also our responsibility to help expose them to functional life skills that will aid them within a variety of situations and environments. Targeting functional life skills is also a great opportunity to collaborate with the occupational and physical therapists. Below are some ideas for various age groups:
Working on basic functional life skills with this group usually involves orientation to time, identifying dangerous situations, recognizing warning signs, etc. I almost always start with a basic circle time activity before I begin a therapy session. This circle time activity involves identifying the year, month, and day by using a calendar. This exposes students to the idea that a calendar can be utilized to identify and orient themselves to the time, which can help lay the foundation for more advance calendar skills as they get older, like using an agenda, writing down appointments, etc. I also work with these students on dividing pictures or objects into categories within the home environment. For example: “A blanket, bed, and lamp can be found in what room?” “Where would you be able to find a microwave in your home?”
I work with these students to target situational safety skills. We work a lot on identifying dangerous or hazardous signs and what they mean or where you would find them. I also like developing and reviewing scripts with these students to help aid with emergency situations. We discuss how to locate a phone in their house and use it to call 911, when to call, and what to say to the operator. I have each student take home a sign with 911 written on it, as well as a script, to place in their home.
This is my favorite age group to target functional life skills as they are growing older and taking on more academic and family responsibilities. I usually begin to heavily target agenda use with this age group. We review the importance of using a calendar to help recall activities, projects, due dates, etc. To target this, I will give the students a “project” with a “due date” and we practice writing in in their agendas. Then we develop the habit of checking their agendas at the beginning and end of each day and marking off the tasks as they are completed. I also enjoy targeting time management skills: I verbally provide the students with a list of tasks and have them write them down as a list. We then go through each task and predict how long each one will take. We go through each task as I set my phone timer for each task based on their time prediction. I encourage them to cross off each task as they are completed and then we reconvene and discuss whether we should add more time to each task or if we predicted it accurately.
Many of these functional life skills tasks can be easily developed if we stop and consider what cognitive skills we use everyday as adults to organize our lives and maximize our efficiency. If we begin instilling these habits early with our students, we can help them navigate through their cognitive deficits and make them more independent adults.
Author: Griffin Parrott, M.Ed., CCC-SLP