Functional skills are skills a student needs to live independently. An important goal of special education is for our students to gain as much independence and autonomy as possible, whether their disability is emotional, intellectual, physical, or a combination of two or more (multiple) disabilities. Skills are defined as functional if the outcome supports the student’s independence. We can separate the functional skills as:
- Life Skills
- Functional Academic Skills
- Community-Based Learning Skills
- Social Skills
The teaching of life skills also requires that the teacher/practitioner complete appropriate task analyses to teach the specific skills.
Functional Academic Skills
Living independently requires some skills which are considered academic, even if they do not lead to higher education or the completion of a diploma. Those skills include:
- Math Skills – The functional math skills include telling time, counting and using money, balancing a checkbook, measurement, and understanding volume. For higher functioning students, math skills will expand to include vocationally oriented skills, such as making change or following a schedule.
- Language Arts – Reading begins as recognizing symbols, progressing to reading signs (stop, push), and moves on to reading directions. For many students with disabilities, they may need to have reading texts supported with audio recordings or adults reading. By learning to read a bus schedule, a sign in a bathroom, or directions, a student with disabilities gains independence.
Community-Based Learning Skills
The skills a student needs to succeed independently in the community often must be taught in the community. These skills include using public transportation, shopping, making choices in restaurants, and crossing streets at crosswalks. Too often parents, with the desire to protect their children, over-function for their child and unknowingly stand in the way of allowing them to acquire the skills they need.
Social skills are usually modeled, but for many students with disabilities, they need to be carefully and consistently taught. To function in the community, students need to understand how to interact appropriately with different members of the community, not only family, peers, and teachers. We are fortunate at iCan Dream Center to partner with dozens of community partners who support our student attain their goals to be independent.