5 Keys to Independence

Independence can be perceived as a huge concept and seem to be a very large goal to attain.  But truly, independence takes many shapes and forms – it can be small accomplishments that stand alone or a series of skills learned that add up to the ability to perform a very complex task.   The thread that runs through the development of all independent skills is becoming less dependent on others.  This has added benefits of improving self-esteem, lessening risk for depression and adding to a person’s quality of life.

Five keys to developing greater independence:

  1. Develop expectations from an early age.  Even very small tasks done with mom or dad, or doing a piece of a task,  sets the tone that there is value to work and contributing  to the family household, to your self-care and looking after your surroundings.
  2. The skill of ‘first this, then that’ is very important to learn and practice throughout childhood. It has far reaching practical applications at school, home, in the community and on the job.  It is a key concept that is one predictor of a youth’s ability to live without 24 hr support in adulthood.
  3. A digital camera and visuals are your best friends.  Photographs can be used to label kitchen cupboards, bedroom dresser drawers etc. of the contents within. Tasks can be broken down into   steps with photographs showing the concrete actions needed.  Schedules that outline each day with timeframes for ‘work tasks’ and ‘ leisure time’ can be adapted to any environment and used for any age.
  4. Reinforcement – try to wean off regular concrete reinforcers and praise over time if it makes sense to do so with your child.
  5. Take an inventory of skills periodically and decide what the next steps are in developing/ teaching new skills. Woodview has a Life Skills assessment you may be interested in trying or use another tool.    If your child is able to discuss this with you, include them in the process so they are invested in setting short and long term goals for their future. Communicate with school, grandparents etc. so skills can be practiced in different environments.


Robin Brennan-WoodviewRobin Brennan is the Director of Autism Services at Woodview Mental Health & Autism Services, which serves the communities of Halton, Hamilton and Brant.  Robin has been with Woodview since the inception of its Autism programs. Woodview provides a wide variety of Autism services – direct IBI service provider in Halton , ABA service provider in Halton for children up to 9 years of age, a contracted  PEERS and Children’s Friendship Training provider for Hamilton Health Science’s ABA program, a comprehensive skills-based children’s/teen program in Hamilton ages 7-18, including a Transition to High School program and an extensive adult services program in Hamilton that has provided a variety of housing, skill teaching, social, recreational and a vocational program for moderate to higher functioning adults for the past 25 years.

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