August 30, 2022

Teaching Life Skills in Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Teaching Life Skills in Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Children with developmental disabilities eventually mature into adults. While having others do things for them was necessary while they were small, adults with developmental disabilities need a greater level of self-sufficiency to be happy. They need to be able to develop a set of life skills that will allow them some independence and help them to live their lives to the fullest.

It’s important not only that they develop these capabilities but also that the people who love and support them understand just how vital a life skill set is for their happiness and their ability to live a productive life—and what a challenge mastering those life skills can be for a person with developmental disabilities.

Lifeskills — What They Are

Life skills present challenges for all of us. After all, they encompass all of the tasks and abilities we need to live, work and interact successfully in the world each day. We excel at some, while others will remain a struggle every day of our lives. For many of us, our life skills become somewhat specialized, tailored to our environment, our job and our personal responsibilities.

For example, a skill as simple and basic as communication can vary greatly—from being able to speak, write or even sign your name to being able to translate to or from another language, use an electronic personal device or indicate to other drivers what you’re about to do with your vehicle. Some are quite basic—like being able to ask for the flavor and amount of ice cream that you’d like—while others are quite complex—inquiring about financial investment options for retirement, for example. Yet, each of these represents an important communication skill—and life skill—for someone.

Important Life Skills for Adults With Developmental Disabilities

Overarching all skill sets is the ability to learn and adapt; this is why mastering life skills for adults with developmental disabilities can be so difficult. Impairments can affect a person’s physical development, their ability to learn, whether or how they use language, and how they behave.

Delays typically become obvious when a child misses certain developmental milestones—being able to walk or talk by a certain age, for example. As the child grows, those delays continue to impact their ability to keep pace with their peers and progress through more advanced milestones throughout their entire life.

For adults with developmental disabilities, even the most basic life skills can be a very real and genuine struggle. Wanting something yet not understanding the right way to go about getting it is one of life’s greatest frustrations. That’s why at Arc of Acadiana, we focus on helping our patients and clients develop all four key life skill areas so that they can be the best, most competent version of themselves possible.

1. Emotional Life Skills

The ability to cope with feelings like happiness, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, jealousy, uncertainty, disappointment or even joy and excitement affects how we feel about ourselves and how others view us. Coping appropriately with emotions is a key component of building self-esteem and confidence.

A great part of that is not only understanding that we feel certain emotions but also recognizing that others feel them too. Being able to understand how someone else might feel given a certain situation is one of life’s most valuable life skills—empathy. Learning how to empathize with others helps to alleviate a lot of uncertainty, confusion and frustrating missteps. If you’re able, for example, to recognize that other people have feelings, you’re better able to anticipate how someone else might react to what you’re considering doing, and you might even consider your options more carefully.

At Arc of Acadiana, we want to help our patients and residents learn how to identify what they or others may be feeling and give them appropriate ways of coping with those emotions in positive, constructive ways.

Related: View our Day Program Services

2. Social Life Skills

Interacting with others can be both a source of joy and a cause of strife. Done well, social interactions give a person a sense of purpose and belonging and are the basis for deep friendships. Done poorly, they can cause a person extreme distress, become isolating experiences and even create physically dangerous conflicts.

Social skills encompass everything from being able to recognize and greet someone pleasantly to the manners you use in approaching or speaking with them. Being able to wait your turn, stand in line, share, ask for something rather than take it, maintain appropriate physical space, use please and thank you correctly, or even offer someone else something that you wanted because they need it are all important social skills.

That’s why we believe in working with individuals to help them learn how to express themselves in healthy social settings, communicate constructively with others and act in ways that will help them achieve the results they really intend.

Related: View our Community Group Home Services

3. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Life Skills

Being able to understand what is happening in a situation, anticipate what will happen next and recognize what the consequences might be requires a sense of time beyond right now, cause and effect, and personal responsibility for a choice. If I choose to do this right now, then this and this will happen tomorrow, for example.

Critical thinking and problem-solving are some of the most demanding mental processes because they require impulse control. You can’t just do whatever you want at any given moment because you realize that won’t solve your conflict or satisfy your need. For example, you may be so frustrated that you want to scream, but screaming won’t help you unravel a knot or change what food is on your plate. You have to learn to figure out what to do or how to get what you want—and stay within acceptable norms of behavior.

Arc of Acadiana staff members work with patients and residents to help them learn how to think things through. Sometimes, that means figuring out how to fix something that isn’t as it should be. Sometimes, that means planning for a future activity or event. Either way, it’s helping someone learn how to make good decisions for themselves, and the more opportunities they have to do that, the more successful they will be.

Related: View Our Employment Programs

4. Independent Living Life Skills

While critical thinking and problem-solving often involve working through novel or new situations, many of the life skills needed for independent living involve establishing simple routines and gaining mastery over basic tasks through steady practice and repetition. They typically involve the myriad chores that we all must do to keep ourselves, our homes and our lives in order, yet they often also offer additional benefits like physical movement, mental exercise and emotional control.

Individuals who learn how to cook, for example, can prepare the meals and snacks that they enjoy. They can exercise fine motor skills while also working on completing a process in order. Think of the steps of making a sandwich, for example—opening a package of bread or buns, separating the pieces you want, placing them on a plate, finding and opening a jar of mayonnaise, spreading the condiment, getting out slices of cheese or lunch meat to arrange them in the sandwich, and deciding what you might want to have with it.

Many of our clients and residents benefit from learning a whole range of skill sets, from performing their own personal hygiene, dressing themselves and caring for their clothes to cleaning and maintaining their own living area, shopping for themselves, managing their funds, or engaging in a favored hobby or small job.

We’ve witnessed it over and over. Often, the more a person learns that they’re capable of doing something successfully, the more they want to do for themselves—especially if they know they have caring people who are ready and willing to help them along the way.

Related: View our In-Home Care Services


Many of the skill sets needed for a vibrant, independent life are interlinked, with one leading to the next. Mastery may take more time or greater care for a person with developmental disabilities, but learning to think and do keeps bodies and minds active. Making personal choices that are good choices and knowing how to change something that’s not to your liking are skills that truly empower individuals and build confidence and the willingness to keep trying.

The try is what Arc of Acadiana is all about. We don’t just do for our clients and move on. That would be easier and quicker, but it wouldn’t truly benefit the people we’ve promised to serve. At Arc of Acadiana, we offer much more—we teach our residents and clients how to do and think for themselves in a safe environment with helpers they can trust. Our goal is to equip each and every one of the people we serve with the life skills they need to live their lives to the fullest.

Arc of Acadiana is a nonprofit organization that provides an array of services for adults with developmental disabilities. We have 11 community group homes where residents can enjoy the responsibilities of independent living. We also provide in-home care, social daytime habilitation services and employment programs. We believe that all people should have the opportunity to be the best version of themselves by making the most of their abilities.