Teaching Life Skills
In order to appreciate the historical value for teaching Life Skills, it is important to understand a few relational aspects of special education and inclusion. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) required that students with disabilities were mandated access to the general education classroom. In the early 2000s, legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required states to establish challenging standards; implement assessments that measure students' performance, and maintain accountability for achievement in reading, math, and science.
Keywords Adequate Yearly Progress; Inclusion; Life Skills; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Public Schools; Service Learning; Social Skills Training; Students with Disabilities; Transition; Virtual Reality
In order to appreciate the historical value for teaching Life Skills, it is important to understand a few relational aspects of special education and inclusion. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) required that students with disabilities were mandated access to the general education classroom. Legislation like 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) “required states to establish challenging standards; implement assessments that measure students' performance, and maintain accountability for achievement in reading, math, and science” (Browder, Wakeman, Flowers, Rickelman, Pugalee, & Karvonen, 2007, p. 2). In 2012 and 2013 President Barack Obama began granting waivers to states that would free them from the restrictions of NCLB if they demonstrate that they are committed to higher standards and are complying with requirements. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have received waivers that expire, but can be renewed, at the end of the 2013–2014 school year.
For students with special needs, NCLB allowed states to develop alternative achievement standards to report “adequate yearly progress for students with significant cognitive disabilities” (p. 2). These are individuals consisting of approximately 1% of the general population. Advancements in expectations for students with cognitive disabilities better allowed them to access the general curriculum through inclusion in general education classes.
Central to the conversation concerning special education and standards based education is the increased attention given to the needs of adolescents and adults with disabilities and the mandate to foster appropriate education opportunities for all students. Education opportunities for adolescents and adults that prepare students to transition from school to young adulthood involves a "comprehensive process that involves identifying needs, planning for them, and ensuring that these are addressed" (Patton & Cronin, 1997, p. 294).
Apprehensions about adult outcomes developed and accelerated after a series of studies indicated that students with disabilities were not transitioning from high school to adult life as well as their non-disabled peers, despite federal mandates (Affleck, Edgar, Levine & Kortering, 1990: Blackorby, Edgar, & Kortering, 1991; Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985; Mithaug, Horiuchi, & Fanning, 1985; Wagner et al., 1991; White et al., 1982). In fact, some projections regarding disabled adult outcomes portrayed an epidemic of unemployment and or under-employment, low pay, part-time work, frequent job changes, disassociation with the general community, inadequate functioning in the ability to be independent, and restricted social lives (Halpern, 1993; Sitlington, 1996). Many of these outcomes stemmed from elevated high school drop-out rates. High dropout rates and research regarding adult outcomes indicated that individuals in high school that received special education services were not adequately prepared for adulthood (Patton & Kronin, 1997, p. 2). These outcomes were directly related to the movement of improving the transition process to engage special education students into Life Skills training that would better facilitate improved outcomes.
The concept of Life Skills training stemmed from the belief that all individuals should be able to function in adulthood and the philosophy that while special education was doing a satisfactory job in elementary school; it did not adequately prepare adolescents with disabilities to function well in adult life. While "no one is completely prepared for the realities of adulthood; some students are more ready for the 'big show' than others (Patton & Cronin, 1997, p. 296).
Brown and his colleagues (1979) initially proposed a functional model for teaching Life Skills to high school special education students. Evidence based practices for teaching academic skills to facilitate the transition process from high school to adult life has been described as:
• Teaching prioritized skills with systematic prompting and fading;
• Teaching students to generalize; and
• Promoting access to the general education curriculum through the use of materials, activities, and settings typical of general education (Browder, et al., p. 7).
This means that all students will have the opportunity to access the general education curriculum based on individual needs.
Most meaningful to teaching functional Life Skills is the relevance of providing instruction in community settings such as restaurants, department stores, grocery stores, banks, and recreational settings. Although, when community locations were unavailable, educators learned through trial and error that a simulated community model also produced generalized responses. In order to offset areas of weakness for the student faced with Life Skills training to aid the transition from high school to adult life, researchers also found “additional resources like books, handouts, laboratory equipment, and other relevant materials as an important way to promote access to the general curriculum" (Browder, et al., 2007, p. 8). Moreover, research substantiated the need for further study to develop Individual Education Plans (IEP) that improved how state standards were integrated with Life Skills.
This background for teaching Life Skills led to federal mandates ensuring that transition planning for adolescents to adulthood would provide a framework linking employment and living arrangements to a curriculum that would meet guidelines for all high schools to follow. These stipulations should include an IEP outlining transition services for students aged 16 and older, coordinate activities outlining an outcome-oriented process to education, and involve postsecondary issues of concern like education, vocational training, adult services, independent living, and community participation based on a given student's individual needs, and in response to his or her interests and preferences. Optimal transition activities should include,
• Meaningful instruction,
• Community experiences,
• Envelopment of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and
• Acquisition of daily living skills and vocational training to help young adults get jobs (Patton & Cronin, 1997, p. 296).
Transition goals should meet instructional needs that can be met in the classroom or the community and begin at the preschool level if necessary. Overall, transition planning should be comprehensive, based on the student's strengths, invite student and family participation in creating objectives, offer cultural, family, community, and gender sensitivities, and offer supportive, critical timing, and efficient prioritization of goals and future needs (p. 297).
Central to reasons why teaching Life Skills is vital to students with disabilities is in assuring a level of independence for future living. "Independence for these children means providing them with the opportunity to get more control over their own lives, their environment, and the way they are addressed" (van der Putten, Vlaskamp, Reynders, & Nakken, 2005, p. 613).
Teaching Life Skills
The idea of teaching Life Skills is not new, but in has drawn more attention in the 2000s, because of the federal mandates for more standardized education and higher expectations. Critical parts of teaching Life Skills have focused on several areas of adult preparation. Life Skills' content itself should be integrated with scholastic abilities and social skills, and potentially offer training in Personal Finance, Health and Hygiene, and Practical Communications. This content is optimally supported by infusing school and businesses within the work community. To facilitate these opportunities, teachers should partner and seek support from business owners that might offer their workplace for job placement opportunities.
Depending on the severity of the disabilities experienced by individuals in Life Skills training programs, researchers reported deficits in money management skills, home cleanliness, social behavior, and meal preparation as areas that should be recognized and integrated into IEP development for students entering the independence of adulthood. Additional skill areas that should be developed and infused into Life Skills teaching to ensure success include: personal maintenance, communication, community utilization, clothing care and use, and food preparation (Schalock & Harper, 1978). Travel training such as bus riding, street crossing, and driving a car should support money management training to offset debt problems and inadequate employment issues (Martin, Rusch, & Heal, 2001, p. 247). Individuals with disabilities also experience gaps in their nutrition stemming from the inability to understand proper nutrition coupled with inadequate meal preparation (p. 248). Researchers further urged Life Skills programs to teach appropriate hygiene, telephone...
(The entire section is 4354 words.)