Independent Living Skills and Cognitive Disabilities: Reduce Anxiety, Solve Problems

Archive for the ‘Families, Staff and Caregivers’ Category

Is Independence in My Child’s Future?

English: Two adolescent couples at the 2009 We...

My Child is Growing Up! What Can I Do to Prepare for the Future?

Yes, children with disabilities do grow up. Sometimes we enjoy (or grow accustomed to) the interests, behaviors, and quirks that our child has. Sometimes we forget that they, too, will grow bigger and older, and some behaviors can stand in his or her way of being accepted by peers, getting a job, or having independence.Schools focus on academic skills due to pressures of standardized testing and No Child Left Behind requirements.At the same time, self advocacy and social skills are equally important in employment, social settings, and family life. Eventually, he or she will need to interact with a roommate, co-workers, and friends. Let’s get more specific with a few concrete examples.

Sample questions to consider when planning for independent living:

  • Does my child hug everyone without checking to see if a hug is okay?
  • Does my child order his or her own meals in restaurants?
  • Is my child a guest in our home or an equal member of the family with responsibilities that increase each year?
  • Is there some other behavior that will not look ‘cute’ in 10 years?

You may be thinking now, “Okay, as a parent, I get it. I realize that my child is getting older and I need to raise the bar so that he (or she) can get a job and have as much independence as possible. But how? It’s a struggle to get through the day most days.” Glad you asked.

Routines are hard to break, and it’s sometimes difficult to know when your child might be ready to be more flexible. Some habits will always be a part of your child’s repertoire as a calming technique or as a way to cope with sensitivities. Only you and your child know the difference between what is necessary and what new challenges might be considered. Seek out other parents or experts for guidance on this if you are not sure.

Steps in making relatively low-stress changes:

  1. Write a social story or a script about the behavior that you want to see. (It’s important that this be in writing and pictures rather than a conversation. See the links below regarding social stories and a couple of smartphone apps for more ideas.)
  2. Start talking about the change ahead of time and schedule a day when you can agree that the new behavior will start. Reread the social story as often as needed to integrate the concept, reviewing periodically.
  3. When you see an effort, celebrate in a way that your child or young adult will appreciate. A step in the right direction is just fine; we are not after perfection.

With a relaxed and positive approach, yes, your child can learn more mature behavior with less stress than it first seemed possible. Let us know how you’re doing.

Smart Steps (TM) LLC (c) 2013

Independent Living: Is Crossing the Street as Easy as ‘Look Left, Look Right, Look Left Again’?

English: A pedestrian LED Traffic Light in Fin...

English: A pedestrian LED Traffic Light in Financial District, New York City, NY Deutsch: Eine Fussgängerampel im Financial District in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being independent requires being able to navigate the community safely. Summertime is a great time of year to explore outside activities; with that come opportunities to practice safety.

Prepare to be aware of the environment. The first step in community safety is to be aware of our environment. This means putting away the earbuds and watching where we are walking. If a person tends to follow others when walking, she or he is not being challenged to pay attention to what is in the immediate vicinity or make decisions about which way to turn. She is not increasing her independence. Encourage your child to walk with you, or to take a turn in leading the group. This may involve reading signs and maps, so she is practicing functional academics as well.

Independence when walking in different environments includes watching for cars, people, and boundaries. Today I’ll discuss car safety.

Practice Various Scenarios

Car safety includes crossing streets and walking through parking lots. Try various neighborhoods that include a traffic light, not using a traffic light, and using a crosswalk. Intersections with T intersections, one-way traffic, forked roads, and three way intersections vary in terms of traffic flow. It’s not only a matter of the “look left, look right, look left again” strategy of crossing streets. It may also require looking behind you to see if a car is approaching and getting ready to turn right into your path. It may involve watching for cars waiting to turn left. Point out the turning signal on cars and see if your child notices that a driver is planning to turn, and which way.

Stand Back from the Curb

While watching traffic, stay a few feet away from the curb. Think about where you would fall if you tripped or if someone bumped you from behind. What if a car turned the corner too sharply and came up on the curb?  Stay back about three feet from the road, but be ready to start walking briskly when it’s time to cross.

Being Independent Includes Being Proactive: Watch for Distracted Drivers

Even though cars are supposed to give right-of-way to pedestrians, sometimes they don’t. If it’s in an area where there is not a lot of pedestrian traffic, they may not be paying a lot of attention. They may be talking on their phone.  Walkers need to be aware and make eye contact with the driver before stepping into the street. We all need to take responsibility for safety.

Social Skills: When a Driver Stops For You, Say Thanks

A note on social skills in dealing with drivers: if a driver stops for you to cross, make eye contact and hold your hand up to say ‘thank you’ as you begin crossing the street.

Navigating Parking Lots Safely: Plan, Watch, and Listen

How about parking lots? Cars are backing up, coming from two directions, and cutting across the parking lot. Practice watching for the backup lights. Again, drivers should give right-of-way to pedestrians, but they may not see people walking, or they may not look. It’s important for us as walkers to watch out for ourselves.

  • There are more choices in terms of where to walk and where to cross to get to the building and back to our vehicle. A short discussion in the parking lot, planning out a route, develops independent skills.
  • This is a good time to talk about using our ears and our eyes. Sometimes we may hear a car coming before we turn our head to see it. This is why we take off our headphones before we get out of the car or off the bus. It’s the safe thing to do.

When you think about it, walking in the community includes a lot of decision-making. Practice on an ongoing basis helps to build independent living skills.

Smart Steps (TM) LLC (c)2013

Can Food Allergies Affect Behavior and Quality of Life?

Fruit and berries in a grocery store, Paris, F...


At the grocery store the other day, I picked up a copy of an interesting magazine, Autism File, geared toward families. The focus of this issue (April-May 2012) was the Autism-Allergy overlap and other nutritional information.In one article, I learned about salicylates, a substance naturally found in plants but particularly in fruits. For some people, salicylates cause red cheeks, aggression, rashes, digestive issues, and cravings for the same food. Isn’t it interesting–and unfair– that foods we crave may actually be allergans?Following are some tips for approaching this issue if you think you or someone else might be sensitive:

1. Buy locally-grown fruit. According to a researcher, Rosemary Waring, most children with autism have a deficiency in the enzyme PST which helps to digest salicylates. Fruits that are picked before ripe are higher in salicylates, so in-season, locally-ripened fruit from farmers markets may be a better choice.

2. Take enyzme supplements. Digestive enzyme supplements for phenols may also help for those with mild allergies.

3. Find a dietary approach that works for you. A couple of diets were recommended as a starting point: the Feingold diet, which has existed for decades, and the Failsafe diet. These diets remove amines and glutamates as well as salicylates but their approaches differ. There are other diets out there as well, so this is not an exclusive list. It’s up to each family to experiment and find what works for them.

More info can be found in books by Julie Matthews (Nourishing Hope for Autism, Cooking to Heal), a Certified Nutrition Consultant, author and presenter. Her website is By finding the foods that work for us, we can all have a better quality of life.

Smart Steps(TM), LLC  (c)2013

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