Get involved in our 2024 events!

Blog Post Author

The Team at ALSO

May 25, 2023

The Importance of Life Skills for Young Adults with Disabilities

In this blog post, the service providers at ALSO shine a bright light on the importance of life skills for young adults with disabilities. The achievement of these essential skills is a key factor in health, social inclusion, independent living, financial security, and overall quality of life. For all people, including those without disabilities, life skills are critical to functioning successfully in our daily lives.

What are Life Skills?

An intellectually disabled employee stocks soda boxes in a grocery store.


From the moment we wake up in the morning, we use our life skills to meet our respective responsibilities, excel in our goals, take care of ourselves, and get along with others. Such skills encompass an amazingly wide variety of behaviors, thought processes, habits, and abilities. Although health, research, and human service professionals differ and overlap in their descriptions, below is a definition of basic life skills from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Psychosocial competencies and interpersonal skills that help people to do the following:

  • Make informed decisions.
  • Solve problems.
  • Think critically and creatively.
  • Engage in effective communication.
  • Empathize with others.
  • Manage and cope with life in a productive and healthy manner.

Psychosocial skills have also been categorized as:

  • Social skills: interacting appropriately with others, engaging in effective communication, and developing healthy relationships.
  • Thinking skills: developing different solutions to a particular problem and being willing to learn new things.
  • Emotional skills: having knowledge of who you are and regulating emotions appropriately.

The above essential life skills provide a solid foundation for successful independent living at home, school, work, and in the community. The value of life skills not only applies to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, but to everyone!

Basic life skills open us up to personal growth opportunities that improve our present and future quality of life, including the following:

  • Independent Living: We become more adept at problem solving the challenges of our daily living tasks. We grow to understand the importance of staying within our household budget. We realize how cognitive abilities are related to time management, organizational skills, and money management.
  • Employment Opportunities: We take the time to learn about the job application and job training process. We learn to hold ourselves accountable for mistakes and celebrate successes.
  • Education: We get help from our mentors, teachers, and other supports. We explore our strengths and areas of improvement.
  • Social Opportunities: We learn about our likes and dislikes, and how to interact with others in a positive way. We sharpen our social communication skills.
  • Community Involvement: We explore how we might like to spend our spare time. Do we want to volunteer in community service? Do we want to find a job?

CHECK IT OUT: How high-quality transition planning helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities achieve life goals.

Why are Life Skills Important for Young Adults with Disabilities?


People with disabilities routinely experience four types of barriers to greater community accessibility:

  • Pace: The fast-paced society is particularly taxing for individuals who have a slower speed of processing. The challenges are multiplied when people also have a physical disability.
  • Complexity: Many written instructions for household items are crowded on to pages, written in lengthy sentences with an overuse of abbreviations and complex jargon.
  • Literacy: A high percentage of individuals with disabilities also have low literacy rates. This may not only be due to intellectual disability, but because of fewer opportunities for high-quality educational strategies.
  • Stigma: This is perhaps the most problematic barrier to the development of meaningful life skills for young adults with disabilities. It’s a stereotype that people with disabilities must be controlled or supervised. Although supervision may be necessary at times, there are indeed situations where someone with a disability is completely capable of performing independent living skills and being fully included within the fabric of the community.

Our present society and infrastructure tend to cater more towards individuals without disabilities than those individuals with disabilities. The result is that persons with disabilities have yet an even steeper hill to climb in the journey towards greater independence and equal opportunity in the community. This is why service providers, advocacy groups, and educators must continue to push for additional support for life skills programs for youth with disabilities.

CHECK IT OUT: How the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program prepares young adults with intellectual disabilities in self-advocacy, campus life, and career development.


When youth have the opportunity to practice and improve life skills, they are better equipped to exercise their rights to self-determination. According to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities, self-determination has the following components:

  • Freedom of choice
  • Self-direction
  • Individuality
  • Responsibility (taking charge of one’s own life, community involvement, competitive employment)

CHECK IT OUT: Disability self-advocate Kaaren Londahl speaks about living an independent life.

Tips for Developing Life Skills


People can develop and improve their life skills no matter what their age. Whether you are living with a disability yourself or are providing support to someone you care about, these 6 tips are for you.

  1. Get professional support from advocates or human services professionals in your area. They will likely have ideas on specific intervention strategies for improvement of life skills.
  2. Learn as much as you can about disabilities. You can do your own research, get help from a professional or learn from other individual(s) with disabilities.
  3. Know the difference between support and control. It’s important to empower the person you are supporting, rather than trying to exercise authority over them.
  4. It’s okay to make mistakes. Errors are part of the learning process!
  5. Model positive actions and behaviors.
  6. Practice advocacy – whether you are advocating for yourself or for someone you support, it’s always helpful to speak with community members about the importance of life skills. It will make the challenges easier for others in the future.

What are Individual Education Plans (IEPS)?


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that each child receiving special education services have a written IEP. It is a collaborative process between a child’s parents/guardians, teachers, and support providers (such as mental health, physical, or occupational therapy). It also involves the young person with the disability if they are able to participate. The IEP must be completed annually and includes the following:

  • The student’s current performance
  • Annual goals
  • A list of special education that the child is to be involved in
  • The extent to which the child will participate in extracurricular and social activities
  • Other applicable youth programs, such as vocational skills, sports, or art classes
  • An explanation regarding to what extent a child would not be interacting with students who do not have disabilities.

How IEPS Can Help Develop Life Skills

The IEP may be seen as the first formalized document that acknowledges the commitment the educational system has made to the student. As any young person grows and experiences the school years with his or her peers, there are many perfect opportunities to practice the very important life skills that we have been discussing. Here’s just a few examples:

  • Chances to witness and pursue acts of kindness and empathy.
  • Experiencing life skills coaching and modeling by teachers and peers.
  • Opportunities to build self-esteem and establish self-worth.
  • Build skills in problem solving, adaptability and flexibility.
  • Participate in social activities with peers who do not have disabilities (as well as those who do).

How Can Family and Friends Support the Development of Life Skills?


Admittedly, we’ve made major strides since the very early days of deinstitutionalization, the closing of sheltered workshops, and desegregation of all people with disabilities. Still, we can truly work together to accomplish even more.

As a family member, friend, and community member, you have a major role in improving life skills for young adults with disabilities. Our loved ones with disabilities need all the help they can get in reaching the goal to “live in the community, just like anyone else.” To be an excellent role model, all you have to do is practice those life skills yourself…especially care, thoughtfulness, and empathy.

If you’re an employer, have you considered hiring someone with a disability? If you aren’t, have you thought about asking local businesses if they might be interested in hiring people with disabilities? Would you ever consider volunteering at the local high school? There are many ways to get involved and be an advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

How ALSO Support Services Encourage Learning Life Skills


At ALSO, we are very proud to help the people we support improve the life skills that they need to function successfully in their communities. Our support services encourage the development of life skills and include individualized support plans (ISPs) so that every individual has measurable goals they can work towards. ISPs are an integral part to learning life skills for young adults, are unique to the individual, and may relate to both life skills at home and in the community.

Contact us any time to learn more about ALSO and how you can make an impact today.

Don’t miss out on the goodness

Sign up for our newsletter to get our latest news, content, and job opportunities.


Heart work opens doors.

Help us ensure that everyone has the same opportunities in their home, workplace and community. Let’s make dreams!