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What are Daily Living Skills?

Mastering daily living skills is essential for anyone aiming to lead an independent, fulfilling life. These skills, which range from personal hygiene to household management, are the building blocks of self-sufficiency. They empower individuals, including those with special needs, to navigate the complexities of daily life with confidence. From creating a daily living skills checklist to setting daily living goals, this guide explores practical strategies and activities designed to enhance these crucial abilities, ensuring everyone has the tools needed for personal growth and independence. Examples of daily living skills include personal hygiene and grooming, meal preparation and nutrition, household chores and management, budgeting and financial management, and community navigation and transportation.

Step-By-Step Life Skills

Some individuals with ASD have a great communication deficit. They may require social stories for basic events, such as brushing their teeth, taking a shower, or even washing their hands. These individuals require explicit step-by-step instruction to complete daily living skills activities independently. A social story breaks each step down into a manageable piece so the process is more easily learned or practiced. A social storyboard is a great way to not only introduce a new concept, but also to use it repetitively. Storyboard pictures of activities of daily living can provide a visual guide and educational tool, helping individuals learn and master the essential skills needed for independence and daily self-care.

Activities of Daily Living or ADLs refer to the basic daily needs of oneself. This includes personal hygiene, housework, and basic food preparation. These are all skills that an individual needs to live independently. Most of us learn them as we grow, but sometimes students with special needs require additional instruction to fully grasp the concepts. A comprehensive list of daily living skills often encompasses tasks such as bathing, dressing, cooking, cleaning, shopping, managing medications, using public transportation, and handling personal finances. These skills are crucial for achieving and maintaining independence in everyday life. Depending on the students, these skills may be the focus of their IEPs, which then means that teachers and other service providers need to work on the skills with the student at school.

Life skills are often practiced with first-hand instruction, and frequently supplemented with social stories. Social storyboards can act as the step-by-step instruction guide for the educators to incorporate in their lessons, or as daily reminders. They are easy to create and allow for a defined format that is easy for the students to understand.

Hygiene and Personal Maintenance Housework Basic Food Preparation
  • Washing Hair
  • Brushing Teeth
  • Getting Dressed
  • Making the Bed
  • Taking out the Garbage
  • Doing Laundry
  • Making a Sandwich
  • Making Toast
  • Boiling Water

Core Daily Living Skills and Examples

Hygiene and Personal Maintenance

Hygiene and personal maintenance are habits to maintain good health. These habits are not innate and must be taught to all children. Children with special needs sometimes need a little more help or explicit reminders when learning proper hygiene habits.

An excellent example of a hygiene situation where a social storyboard would be helpful is for washing hands. It is a multi-step process that requires a lot of practice and usually a lot of reminders. The social storyboard can be read through repeatedly with the student. It can also be printed out and posted near the hand-washing sink to use as a visual reminder. This additional step can allow the student to become increasingly more independent.

Some other examples of possible storyboards for hygiene and personal maintenance include:

Basic Hygiene Adolescent Hygiene Personal Maintenance
  • Bathing
  • Brushing Teeth
  • Washing Face
  • More Frequent Bathing
  • Applying Deodorant
  • Dealing with Acne
  • Brushing Hair
  • Getting Dressed
  • Wearing Clean Clothes

Individuals of all ages and abilities must learn to take care of their bodies. Social stories are a very visual way to show the process that someone can use with assistance or on their own. As the individual becomes more competent at certain tasks, change the social story, or move on to new ones!


The next logical progression from personal hygiene is to household cleanliness. Housework is also a learned activity that is very important for health and safety. A clean home can help prevent health and safety issues such as allergies and clutter. Individuals need to know how to clean up after themselves and to complete basic household chores. Additionally, even if they are not performing the chore themselves, it is important for individuals to understand smells from cleaning supplies or noise from a vacuum.

Washing dishes is a necessary task for everyone, since we all eat food, and it is not realistic or environmentally responsible to use only disposable dishes. The example storyboard is for washing dishes. The individual is walked through the process of washing, rinsing, and drying dishes. Teachers can use this to introduce the concept prior to doing it as a hands-on lesson. Similar to the Washing Hands storyboard, it can also be printed and posted near the area dishes are washed.

Other examples of housework social storyboards that can be created are:

Bedroom House Other
  • Making the Bed
  • Putting Toys Away
  • Putting Clothes Away
  • Sweeping
  • Doing Laundry
  • Dusting
  • Caring for a Pet
  • Yardwork
  • Taking out the Garbage

Keeping healthy habits at home makes it easier for healthy habits at school and eventually the workplace. Use social stories to encourage cleanliness and show that many household chores can be accomplished very easily.

Basic Food Preparation

As children, we are taught that food is one of our basic needs. In order to eat food, we must first prepare it. Basic food preparation is often taught to students with disabilities, to assist them in the process of becoming independent.

In this situation, the storyboard walks the student through the steps of preparing a bowl of cereal. Although pouring a bowl of cereal may seem like an easy concept, some students may require a more detailed account of the process. The social storyboard acts as a recipe, with each cell representing a step in the recipe, making it easier for the students to follow.

Some of the other basic food preparation ideas that a storyboard can help teach are:

Cold Hot More Advanced
  • Making a Sandwich
  • Getting a Snack
  • Making Chocolate Milk
  • Heating Soup
  • Making Tea or Cocoa
  • Making Toast
  • Making Pasta
  • Heating/Cooking Frozen Food
  • Cutting Vegetables

Activities of Daily Living or ADLs are crucial to daily independence. Individuals need to be able to take care of themselves. Social storyboards are an excellent way to introduce and reinforce those life skills. Storyboards can be easily updated to reflect an individual’s progress or preferences.

Adaptive and Social ADLs for Independent Living

Adaptive Skills for Independent Living

For individuals with physical or cognitive challenges, adaptive daily living skills are necessary to perform daily tasks independently. This includes using tools like modified utensils for eating or speech-to-text technology for communication. Strategies might involve personalized training on using adaptive devices or modifications to the home environment to ensure accessibility, highlighting the importance of independent daily living skills.

Social ADLs: Enhancing Interactions and Leisure Activities

Social ADLs focus on improving interactions with others and participating in leisure activities, which are essential for a balanced and enriching life. This can include skills like maintaining personal relationships, understanding social cues, and engaging in community activities. Activities to enhance social ADLs might involve group outings, social skills workshops, or leisure planning strategies, all of which are crucial for daily living skills development.

Educational Strategies for Daily Living Skills

Teaching Daily Living Skills Special Needs Students Need

For special needs students, daily living skills are taught through tailored strategies that accommodate individual challenges. This can include hands-on learning, step-by-step instruction, and the use of adaptive tools. Examples might involve personalized lesson plans, the use of visual aids for instruction, and incorporating life skills training into the curriculum, embodying the principles of ADL special education.

Utilizing Technology and Visual Aids in Daily Living Skills Education

Technology and visual aids can significantly assist in learning and practicing daily living skills. This might include apps for scheduling and reminders, videos for step-by-step instruction, or interactive games that teach life skills. Utilizing technology provides a dynamic and engaging way to learn and reinforce essential skills, an innovative approach in ADL special education.

Setting Goals for Daily Living Skills Development

Setting realistic and achievable daily living goals or ADL goals is crucial for successful development of daily living skills. This process involves assessing current abilities, identifying areas for improvement, and creating a structured plan with specific daily living skills goals and outcomes.

Resources and Support for Daily Living Skills

Finding the right resources and support is essential for enhancing daily living skills. This might involve working with occupational therapists, utilizing community resources like life skills workshops, or joining support groups. Guidance can also come from online resources, educational apps, and local community centers, all aimed at providing the tools and support needed to improve independence and quality of life.

More Social Stories and Daily Living Examples

If you are new to social stories, please read our introduction to social stories that covers the basics of social stories and how to make effective ones.

For a closer look, please see all of our social story articles:

Article Description Topics
Daily Living Skills Some individuals require explicit instruction on tasks that many of us take for granted. Make a personalized social story to engage the learner.
  • Hygiene
  • Housework
  • Food Preparation
Transitions and Unexpected Events The unknown is scary for everyone, but unexpected events and transitions can be particularly stressful for individuals with ASD. Help prepare your student or loved one for upcoming changes with a social story.
  • Day-to-Day Transitions
  • Major Transitions
  • Unexpected Events
    • Home
    • School
    • Community
Social Situations Social interactions can be very stressful for many people, with and without ASD. Make storyboards to show possible situations and outcomes.
  • Home
  • School
  • Community
Adolescent Skills As kids get older, their interests and needs change. Brooch potentially difficult conversations with a storyboard example.
  • Peer Pressure
  • Dating
  • Job Interview
Social Stories in the Classroom Social stories are also useful for whole group direct instruction of social and coping skills. Use a storyboard to address issues with both individuals and the class.
  • Coping Skills when Angry or Frustrated
  • Social Cues
  • Class-wide Behaviors
Social Stories for Young Children Young children often struggle with new concepts or big changes. Create a social story to help prepare even very young children for change or new skills.
  • Creating a Social Story
  • Social Story Examples
  • Social Story Principles

How to Teach ADLs through Functional and Contextual Learning


Identify Relevant ADLs

Determine which ADLs are most relevant and meaningful for your students based on their age, abilities, and individual needs. Focus on ADLs that students can directly apply in their everyday lives, such as personal hygiene, dressing, eating, grooming, or household tasks.


Analyze Real-Life Contexts

Identify real-life contexts and situations where the ADLs occur naturally, such as home, school, or community environments. Consider the specific routines, settings, materials, and social interactions that surround the ADLs.


Create Simulated Environments

Design simulated environments or activities within the classroom that mimic real-life contexts where the ADLs occur. Provide materials and props that resemble those found in the actual setting to promote authentic learning experiences.


Embed ADL Instruction

Embed ADL instruction within functional and contextual activities, ensuring that students practice the skills in meaningful ways. Integrate ADLs into daily classroom routines, academic tasks, or project-based learning activities.


Use Modeling and Guided Practice

Model and demonstrate the steps involved in performing ADLs, breaking them down into manageable parts. Provide guided practice opportunities where students can engage in the ADLs with teacher support and feedback.


Promote Generalization and Transfer

Facilitate opportunities for students to transfer their ADL skills from the simulated environments to real-life contexts. Encourage students to apply their skills at home, in the community, or during school outings to promote generalization and independence.

Frequently Asked Questions ALD Social Stories

What are social stories for activities of daily living?

Social stories for ADLs are short narratives that describe common activities of daily living, such as brushing teeth, taking a shower, or getting dressed. They are designed to help individuals with autism spectrum disorder or other social communication difficulties learn and understand these activities in a structured and predictable way.

How are social stories for activities of daily living created?

Social stories for ADLs are typically created by professionals such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, or special educators. They are customized to the individual needs and preferences of the person for whom they are intended. The stories are often written in simple language and may include visual supports, such as pictures or diagrams, to help illustrate the steps involved in the activity.

What is the purpose of social stories for activities of daily living?

The purpose of social stories for ADLs is to provide individuals with a clear understanding of what is expected of them during common daily activities. This can help reduce anxiety and increase independence and confidence. Social stories can also provide a framework for practicing and learning new skills.

Who can benefit from social stories for activities of daily living?

Social stories for ADLs can benefit individuals of all ages who have difficulty with social communication and interaction, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, or other disabilities. They can also be helpful for individuals who struggle with anxiety or have difficulty with transitions and changes in routine.

How can social stories for activities of daily living be used?

Social stories for ADLs can be used in a variety of settings, including at home, at school, or in therapy sessions. They can be read aloud to the individual, or the individual can read them independently. Social stories can also be used as a visual aid to help prompt the individual during the activity.

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