Tag Archives: shopping

Building and Teaching Skills: There’s More Than One Way

I’ve come to understand that autism is not a disability in the strictest sense of the word, but rather a different kind of ability. As such, traditional approaches to teaching must give way to more creative, more focused, more knowing approaches. And in doing so, we can help individuals on the spectrum integrate into community life and live independently.

Peter Gerhardt Ed.D. and the Autism Consortium have some great steps for teaching and building skills.

  1. IF YOU CAN TEACH THE SKILL, TEACH IT.  If you can teach a teen to buy something at a store using money, teach her to do it.
  2. IF YOU CAN’T TEACH THE SKILL, ADAPT IT.  If the teen can’t count change–but can use a debit card–have her use the debit card.   Image
  3. IF YOU CAN’T ADAPT THE SKILL, CAN YOU FIND A WAY AROUND IT?  If the teen cannot use a debit card, can she use a gift card or pre-paid card at a specific store?
  4. IF YOU CAN’T FIND A WAY AROUND IT, TEACH THE ‘TYPICAL’ WORLD HOW TO DEAL WITH IT.  If Steps 1-3 aren’t possible, visit the store and introduce yourself to management and staff. Better yet, use a store you shop at often. Explain that you’re working on your teen’s skills–maybe even explain your child’s struggles/diagnosis. With this valuable input, along with some suggestions for supportive prompts, they can help the process. For example, they could prompt your teen, “Suzi, you need to take your change. Thanks!” This type of exchange allows the teen to have an interaction with the cashier, while teaching her how to buy things from a store.   Image

Ideas for a Summer Project

For most kids, school is out for the summer! Yay! Put their leisure time to good use by agreeing on an independent living skill to master and work on it all summer.

Back when my son had just completed 4th grade, we practiced going to the market and buying groceries all summer. By the time he started 5th grade, he could walk into any grocery store on his own and pick up a few items for his mom who didn’t want to get out of the car [that was my excuse anyway]. Our local market had a self-check aisle which was perfect for him. We did lots of rehearsing, with me shadowing, then he’d shop and pretend I wasn’t there [but I was].

Independent Shopper!

Independent Shopper!

His “final exam” was when I actually remained in the car and he went into the store with a list of a few items and some cash. I remember he came out once to tell me that the kind of applesauce we always buy wasn’t available, and he was unsure of what to substitute. But we discussed it and he went back in to complete his mission. [Lucky for him and me that he didn’t walk out of the store carrying the other items, or we’d have a totally different subject to talk about here!]

Anyway, summer is a great time to hone your child’s skills in a variety of areas. Remember to take baby steps—three to five steps at a time. Here are a few ideas:

  • Laundry [HINT: The easiest one to start with is washing, drying & folding towels.]

    Folding Towels is an Easy Skill to Master.

    Folding Towels is an Easy Skill to Master. Parents must be willing to give up expectations for “hotel-style” folding — at least for a while.

  • Operate the washer & dryer
  • Sort clothes
  • Be familiar with detergents, fabric softeners, stain removers and bleach
  • Select the correct water temperature for different fabrics
  • Select the correct drying cycle
  • Clean the lint screen after each use
  • Fold clothes and put them away


  • Wake up on his own in the morning
  • Set and use an alarm clock
Alarm Clock

An important step to self-reliance!


  • Know how to exit apartment/home in event of an emergency
  • Know when and how to call for emergency services
  • Know when to call 911—and when not to
  • Know how to lock and secure all doors and windows
  • Know basic first aid skills or how to get added assistance when needed

Cooking        [teach him to prepare two dishes for each meal]


Another crucial step in teaching your child self-reliance.

With patience, understanding and a whole lotta practice, you and your child will have a productive project for the summer that will result in an important life skill by September.

Have fun with it and good luck!