Useful Tips for Helping Students Transition to Independence

Useful Tips for Helping Students Transition to Independence

If you read my post on my sister blog, Speech Spotlight, you already know that I am thinking about how our job really doesn’t end, even if our schools are closed for the summer.

On a similar note, the education of our moderately to severely impacted students doesn’t really end when they turn 21.  It is much more difficult for families to get the help that they need at that point in time than it is when they are school-aged. Because of that, it is so important for us to think about our students’ functional communication skills so they can achieve the greatest amount of independence possible as adults.



Parents and special educators, don’t tune out because the next sentence starts with SLP! You will want to see the resource links in this post!


Tips for Independence

As SLPS, we need to support those who are teaching them the life skills curriculum needed for independence. Learning the tasks to do must be supported by being able to communicate appropriately, especially when something in the learned process breaks down. Here are a few points I found important to think about when figuring out what communication skills are needed.



When a problem behavior begins, look at the communication function that it may serve. What happened to provoke the behavior? Was there something that the student may have needed to communicate, but lacked the ability to do so? The frustration in this situation can lead to inappropriate behaviors. Teaching appropriate communication skills can help reduce unwanted behavior.


Social Interactions

It has been my observation that students who have more appropriate social communication skills are given more opportunities. Period.


Communication Breakdowns

When all goes as expected, the student’s day may be smooth. When something unexpected occurs, anxiety happens.  Then, the student may lack the communication skills to get the help that is needed. We need to think ahead, to try to figure out what could go wrong, and make sure that our students have the ability to request help. Sabotaging the situation is a great way to give students the practice needed in using these communication skills!


Where to start?  Resources!


For me, the best place to start is by gathering information about what is expected of our students.  Communication skills are very individualized, so there are limited resources for this on the web.  However, I was able to find some free resources for assessing the skills that are needed for independence. I just love it when someone else has thoughtfully done some of the work for me!

Adolescent Autonomy Checklist

This autonomy checklist is great for special educators and parents to assess the teen’s needs, as well as to note progress. It lists many of the functional skills needed for independent living in a handy format.  SLPs, I used this to help me think about what a student might need to communicate while doing these tasks (especially when something goes wrong) and to assess whether my students had the necessary language.

PALS Life Skills Transitional Living Services Resource Guide

This outline of the PALS Life Skills core curriculum lists varied skills needed for less impaired students to function independently. I know there are some that I wouldn’t have thought about!

Transition Assessments

This is a very cool online assessment tool that gives links to assessment materials based on students’ grades and disabilities. 


Transition Assessments and Activities

This is a great checklist for independence skills for teens, geared especially toward parents.


Community-Based Skills Assessment


This free download assesses the skills needed for functioning in the community, including some communication skills.

This is probably my favorite of all of these links! They did an amazing job compiling checklists at three levels for joint attention, greetings, self-regulation, conversations, perspective taking, social problem solving/critical thinking skills, friendship, and life skills. They also included a recommended resource list. If you only check out one of these links, get this one!

Work Together

I coordinate with my students’ special educators, so we are addressing the communication skills for the life/job skill they are working on currently.  Although our time is limited, observing how my students communicate during life skills training helps me to determine what needs they have. Then, I can work on teaching the communication skills in a variety of activities and touch base with classroom staff to see if the skills are generalizing. 

For very limited students, who don’t generalize well, I try to replicate the situation as well as I can, as I am not usually able to be on site. Then I incorporate the help of the classroom aides to fine-tune and carry over the skills while they are on the job site with the student.  Working together, we can help our students/children gain more functional communication and independence!

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I’m Linda, an SLP who loves helping you build effective communication skills for your students using strategies and visuals. Pictures are time consuming, so let me make your life easier!

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