Health Skills | Organization for Autism Research

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This blog post has been adapted from “Chapter 6: Life Skills” of OAR’s resource “A Guide for Transition to Adulthood”. 

Throughout the transition process, you can continue helping your young adult master many of the life skills associated with independence in the community. Your young adult may have mastered some of these skills, but others may be more difficult and/or quite complex. As always, the best strategy is to prioritize the skills with the highest functional relevance (i.e., the ones they will actually use most often) as part of their transition plan.

The maintenance of health and personal care is an essential life skill for you and your young adult to focus on during the transition period.  Various health-related skills, such as fitness, nutrition, and managing doctor’s appointments, will help your child as an adult. Increased experience with these skills will allow your child to grow independently. 

For our purposes, this list of health-related skills is divided into three main categories: exercise, nutrition, and organization.

Fitness Skills

ExercisePhysical activity has both immediate and long-term health benefits, and can reduce the risk of developing various diseases.  Other benefits include stress management, opportunity for social interaction (through group physical activities), and relaxation. 

Skill-building steps and activities that you can assist your young adult with include:

  • Find an activity, such as running, weightlifting, rowing, or other fun outdoor activities, that may give your young adult a fitness outlet and a way to meet people
  • Try recreation centers in your area that may also have classes or activities of interest to your young adult
  • Help your young adult access these services and appreciate them early so that your child will more readily use them as an adult

Use these tips and tricks to help motivate your young adult to get into an exercise routine:

Types of exercise – Choosing the right activity can make a world of difference.  Popular exercises include jogging, swimming, team sports (basketball, volleyball, hockey, soccer), biking, aerobics, yoga, Pilates, boxing, Karate, Tai Chi, walking, skating, weightlifting, and jumping rope. 

Motivators – popular motivation techniques fall into three categories: group motivation, knowledge motivation, and reward motivation.

Group motivation:

  • Join a gym as a family, and make it a family activity
  • Coordinate a block party, and play soccer or kickball
  • Take a yoga class together 

Knowledge motivation:

  • Teach your young adult about the benefits of exercise (physical well-being, stress relief)
  • Get your young adult a new book that they can read while on a stationary bike
  • Use fun and informative workout tapes/DVDs

Reward motivation:

  • Make it a game or competition; for example, whoever can make the most baskets wins a prize!
  • Buy your young adult new workout clothes
  • Provide a yummy, healthy snack after the activity (granola bar, apples with peanut butter)
Nutrition Skills

Cooking – This refers to the skills your young adult will need to prepare meals independently.  This is an important skill area that will serve as a key daily living proficiency. Start by asking your young adult to help out in the kitchen.  Assign small tasks, such as measuring or slicing, and work on recipes together as you prepare lunch or dinner. Work together on recipes until your young adult gains confidence working independently.

Skill-building steps and activities that you can assist your young adult with include:

  • Compile a list of your young adult’s favorite meals, with detailed recipe guidelines for them to reference
  • Show your young adult basic cooking techniques and how to use appliances; allow him to practice and maybe take notes
  • As cooking lessons progress, use cookbooks offering step-by-step, illustrated instructions

Healthy Diet This refers to the skills your young adult will use to create not just meals, but nutritious sustenance to fuel their daily activities.  A healthy diet has many positive benefits, including illness prevention, improved mood, and strengthening bones and teeth.  Teaching your young adult to create nutritious meals while at home will create positive habits for their transition into adulthood.

Skill-building steps and activities that you can assist your young adult with include:

  • Highlight positive nutrition habits and provide your young adult with a list of appropriate types of food and amounts to eat each day (such as how many servings of vegetables, fruits, meat, and dairy)
  • Create a weekly menu plan to help your young adult plan nutritious meals, along with a detailed shopping list
  • Make meal preparation a family experience, sharing techniques and responsibilities with everyone in your family
Organization Skills

Appointment Keeping  This refers to the skills your young adult will use to manage their own schedules and errands.  Begin by explaining which doctors help with which services, such as the dentist, psychologist, occupational therapist, pediatrician, or other providers your young adult regularly visits.  

Skill-building steps and activities that you can assist your young adult with include:

  • Give your young adult a calendar, and begin helping him manage and keep track of appointments
  • Have your young adult compile a list of relevant questions for the doctor before any appointment; help him make sure questions are answered once there
  • Create a toolkit, including calendar, notebook, and list of phone numbers of providers

Time Management  As the culmination of all aforementioned skills, this refers to the skill set your young adult will need to effectively manage their day-to-day activities.  Many individuals with ASD have difficulty staying organized and managing their time effectively. The development of simple time management and organizational skills will help make your young adult’s transition to adulthood that much easier.  From Velcro-fastened activity schedules to electronic personal digital assistants (PDAs), there are many tools available to help your young adult organize their time more effectively and efficiently.

Skill-building steps and activities that you can assist your young adult with include:

  • Break each day up into chunks by assigning various tasks for each time period, to avoid overwhelming your young adult
  • Create an individualized activity “To-Do” schedule together
  • Teach your young adult to use a simple paper or electronic organizer 

Preparation and practice are key to learning and mastering these skills.  You may have other topics that you want to ensure your young adult has confidence with, as health skills are just one of the many skill sets that make a transition to adulthood successful.  OAR’s A Guide for Transition to Adulthood is a comprehensive handbook to the many areas that parents should consider while assisting their children through their transitions.  Available in both English and Spanish, you can order or download a copy today for more information!


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