11 Tips for Teaching Activities of Daily Living

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Activities of daily living (ADLs) are the skills and habits necessary for independent and social development. Children with autism may have difficulty developing these skills for a number of reasons. Specialized intervention may be necessary when basic methods and techniques fail to help a child learn.

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How learning ADLs provide long-term benefits for children of all behaviors.

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What Are the Activities of Daily Living?

Adaptive behavior includes communication, social, and daily living skills. Activities of daily living include activities surrounding personal hygiene, meal preparation, and money and time management. The benefits of adaptive behavior extend to individuals and their communities, but some children may face challenges in developing ADLs and may require additional support.

Examples of ADLs include maintaining proper personal hygiene, meal preparation, and money and time management. Performing these tasks require foundational cognitive, motor, and perceptual abilities. However, children with autism may have difficulty due to behavioral challenges like limited receptive language, and weak imitation skills. Additionally, certain behaviors can hinder ADL acquisition in autistic children, including tantrums and distractedness.

11 Tips for Developing Activities of Daily Living

Parents should recognize that teaching their children ADLs is just as important as promoting the development of communication and cognitive skills. Parents can take simple measures to help their children develop ADLs, such as teaching them to feed a pet or help with the dishes.

Simple Ways Parents Can Teach Activities of Daily Living

Putting away toys is an essential ADL for children, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. Parents can turn it into a fun activity by creating timed races around the action to encourage participation.

Parents can also emphasize the benefits of helping with activities like sweeping the floor. This will create value in the activity by not labeling it as an “obligation.”

Dusting is another key ADL, and it’s vital for parents to stress its importance as they teach children. Parents can do this by explaining that dusting can help prevent allergy symptoms from starting.

When the kids are old enough to help with dishes, it’s important to break down the process. This can be accomplished by teaching them how to dry dishes.

Utilizing a little creativity can help teach children the ADL of putting dirty clothes in the hamper. For instance, kids can learn to utilize a reach-and-grab tool for picking up clothes.

When it comes to sorting laundry, it’s essential to allowing children to categorize the dirty clothes. This can be done by either size, color, or fabric.

Making the bed is an essential ADL that can be easily overlooked. To prevent this, parents could establish a monetary reward system that includes “fines” if the chore isn’t completed.

The ADL of washing hands may be automatic for parents, but it’s not for children. To make it a routine act, parents could tape a graphic of the hand-washing process near the sink as a reminder.

Brushing teeth is also a crucial step in maintaining proper personal hygiene. Parents can work with their kids here by breaking down the process into specific steps.

If parents have a pet at home, they can turn the animal’s mealtime into an ADL. To do so, they can use a designated container that’s marked with a line to show ho much food to provide.

Finally, watering plants can be a useful way to develop ADLs. Parents can teach children how to help here by placing a marked Popsicle stick into each plant’s pot to indicate how much water needs to be poured.

Strategies for Teaching Activities of Daily Living

Some children require an experienced behavior specialist to teach them ADLs, while others learn through observation and imitation. Fortunately, many techniques and strategies are proven to be effective for improving skills during childhood and adolescence.

Children without autism or with high-functioning autism may learn ADLs via imitation and communication. However, children with severe autism require special instruction, as they don’t learn well by observation and imitation. Nonetheless, teaching ADLs to these children is vital because it offers key benefits, such as contributing to their well-being and prepping them for greater independence later in life. It also contains benefits for parents and caregivers, such as reducing the lifetime cost of care.

The ABC Paradigm

Before teaching ADLs, behavior specialists can evaluate a child’s skills using the ABC method, a process that creates situations involving an antecedent, a resulting behavior, and a following consequence. From here, behavioral specialist can utilize one of several teaching methods to develop the learned behaviors that turn into ADLs, such as stimulus control procedures, chaining and task analysis, and prompting.


Mastering ADLs is crucial to one’s general well-being, and the responsibility of teaching children these skills should not be taken lightly. With this in mind, parents and behavior specialists can work together to teach the skills that will help children grow up to become responsible and independent adults.

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