Autism & Functional Skill Training

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1. Of or having a special activity, purpose, or task.
2. Designed to be practical and useful.

In my Social Skills post I talked about how its important to remember to include social skills training in any ABA intervention. Teaching skills during ABA therapy isn't complete until the client can successfully navigate through social situations in their every day life.
In addition to social skill development, another instructional area that can be overlooked is Functional Skill Training. 

Functional skills are skills intended to be practical, useful, and helpful in a variety of real-world settings. Autistic individuals may need to be specifically taught functional skills that other people readily learn from their environment, or from social interactions. Functional skills should be age- appropriate goals that are personally relevant to the individual.

Some clients will present with minimal functional life skills, and usually this means day-to-day life requires heavy adult assistance and prompting. Think about a client you work with, and what their typical day looks like from waking up to bedtime: How much of that day is led by adults? How many meltdowns and behavioral episodes occur in a single day? How often do adults have to struggle to keep that client on a schedule, or flowing through daily activities?  How much stress does this put on the shoulders of caregivers or parents?
Its easy to see how a lack of appropriate functional life skills can have far reaching consequences across home, school, and community settings.

Functional skill goals are going to be very specific to the particular individual. Cookie-cutter interventions won't work.
The client's specific cognitive ability, environment, lifestyle, and the caregiver priorities will determine what goals to select. Its also important that treatment goals line up with what is important to the family, and how life happens for that particular family (as this will differ from one client to the next). 
 Without careful consideration of  these very personal client variables, treatment goals can be completely out of touch with what is best for the client. For example:

 -Functional goal: Teach a toddler to eat with utensils. I once worked with a Hispanic toddler who was being taught to grip and use a fork in the school setting. I saw this client at home, and only learned about this during an observation at school. I shared with the teachers that at home, this client's diet was pretty much all finger food (like tortillas, or pre-cut fruit). He rarely had opportunity to use utensils outside of school. This sparked a discussion with me, the school team, and the family, about the functionality of teaching utensil use. Would this skill be maintained outside of the school setting, and if not, then why teach it?  

When correctly implemented into an ABA program, functional skill training of age appropriate goals can benefit the individual in several ways:

Reduce social stigma
Can counteract bullying/teasing
Higher quality of life, and access to reinforcing life events or situations (such as hobbies, leisure activities, friends with shared interests, ability to live alone, etc.) 
Reduces daily burden and stress on parents or caregivers
Makes integrating into the community easier
Can reveal personal skills and strengths, which could lead to job placement/work opportunities (e.g. a love of cooking and a knack for it could lead to working in a restaurant)

Functional skills are skills or behaviors that are either done by the individual, or will need to be done FOR the individual. For example: brushing teeth. I can either brush my own teeth, or someone will have to do that for me. There is no "just skip it" option, as it would negatively impact my health and body to never brush my teeth.

Individuals of all ages need appropriate functional skill training; this isn’t just for adolescent and adult clients. Suggested skills to target include cooking, hygiene, grooming (including teaching adolescent females about makeup and hairstyling, if they have interest), emergency situations, puberty changes/dating/sexuality, Stranger Danger/sexual predators, street safety, laundry, finance/bills/purchasing items, etc. Depending on the age and ability of the client, some goals may be more or less appropriate, but the goal can always be modified and broken down to help the client understand it at an age-appropriate level. For example, a 4-year-old doesn't need to learn to cook a steak. BUT, how about make their own sandwich?

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