For family members and caregivers, caring for someone with an intellectual disability is rewarding, but sometimes challenging. For some, daily tasks take up so much of the available time that there aren’t enough hours in the day to teach skills that lead to greater independence. Others struggle with letting go and worry their loved one isn’t ready for more responsibility.

Promoting independence allows individuals to have greater control over their lives and provides a wider range of choices. Use these daily activities and teaching techniques to help your loved one develop more independence:


What Types of Jobs Should You Teach?


People with intellectual disabilities may need assistance learning to complete daily activities and household tasks, but they feel satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment when they learn to handle cooking and cleaning on their own. Start with these tasks:

  • Putting laundry in the machine, adding detergent and starting it, then moving it to the dryer
  • Folding clothes and putting them where they belong
  • Ironing
  • Sweeping or running the vacuum
  • Preparing food
  • Loading the dishwasher and putting dishes away
  • Cutting the grass
  • Shopping for groceries using a list


Start with Task Analysis


Before you begin to teach a task, break it down into a series of steps. While you may have been washing clothes for so long you don’t even think about what’s involved, your loved one may need more support in learning.

Be specific about how to sort clothes. Demonstrate the sorting task, then put them all back in the basket and allow your loved one to try. Once he or she is proficient at that part, move on to the next step, but continue to practice in sequence. Only practice as long as your loved one is engaged to make it a positive experience. Several sessions may be necessary to teach each task.


Role Play


If you’re teaching skills where your loved one may face distractions or unexpected interaction, it helps to role play. For example, if they are buying groceries, practice what they should do if they see a neighbor in the produce section. Demonstrate both greeting the person and transitioning back to shopping by finding where they left off on their list.


Read Social Stories


Social stories are illustrated books like comic strips that show people participating in situations, activities or events. You can use them to show your loved one how people do things like brush their teeth or put on a jacket, and they’re also helpful for teaching how to ask for assistance or respond to a change in routine.

You can purchase social stories or create your own using online templates. It also helps to create a photo sequence of task steps. Allow your loved one to put them in order, then post them where they will perform each step.

Use a variety of techniques to teach each task. Practice the tasks occasionally even when learning is complete in order to reinforce the process. Be sure to praise your loved one for each step they take toward independence.