Life Skills & Long-Term Planning for the Disabled Child

by | Plan & Organize

Life Skills & Long-Term Planning for theThis is part 2 in the mini-series on lifelong learning & long-term planning. You can read part 1 here.

Today, I’ll give you a concrete example of long-term planning for a child with significant delays through the acquisition of life skills.

First off, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s difficult to plan today what your child will do many years from now. However, the same is true of any child growing up in this information age.

It’s likely that children in school today are preparing for a job that doesn’t yet exist. Ideally, schools are preparing students with the skills they will need to succeed at any job or for any task they will need to engage in later in life – both work and non-work related.

We know that the focus on academics (as seen through the implementation of mandatory exams even in the primary grades) doesn’t allow schools enough time to teach the skills children need for lifelong learning.

Life skills is defined by as: “the ability to cope with stresses and challenges of daily life, esp. skills in communication and literacy, decision making, occupational requirements, problem-solving, time management and planning”.

You will note that these are skills that are needed both in and out of the work force.

When it comes to a child with significant cognitive delays, we need to be careful not to plan his life into adulthood because we do not know for certain what he will choose to do nor what he will be able to do. We can only encourage, teach and guide in skills we know all jobs and daily tasks require, no matter what. And, there is no better place than the home with loving parents to do just that.

Skills most jobs/ daily tasks require no matter the job/ task:

  • a method of communication that can be understood by others
  • mobility to, from and within a facility
  • the ability to safely engage in a task (personal and with others)

How do we get a child there when he’s not speaking, not walking and mouths everything in sight?

You need to look at what you want for your child in the long-run, so that he may experience a fulfilling life.

Then, focus on building the skills he will need to navigate through life by engaging in tasks that are meaningful today.

An example of planning for life skills:

This is an example from our life.

What do I want for my son in the long-run so that he may experience a fulfilling life?

  • to be happy
  • to be comfortable
  • to be healthy
  • to have some control over his surroundings
  • to be treated with respect and dignity

Notice that I did not specify a career path for him. That’s because, no matter what he chooses to do, if he is happy, comfortable, healthy, has control over his surroundings, and is treated with respect and dignity, he will be able to achieve it to the best of his potential (whatever that is 20+ years from now).

What skills will I need to help him build?

  • communication skills
  • fine and gross motor skills
  • emotional regulation

How will I work on those skills with my son today?

  • ASL signs, PECS, and vocalization/ imitation
  • feeding self, daily practice in walker, supported walking in natural environment (indoors and outdoors), engaging in play
  • self-calming strategies

Of course, there are a billion other things I’ll do all day long. These are some examples to help you go from big picture to meaningful, real-life strategies that you can use today. Preparing for lifelong learning begins today.

It’s difficult for me to think about the long-run because I could be limiting my son’s growth based on what I know about him today at this developmental level. My son’s perception of things changes each time he learns and masters new skills.

Further, lifelong and long-term skills will vary from child to child. What my son can and will be able to do one day is going to be different from what your child is able and will eventually do in the future.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What do I want for my child in the long-run so that he may experience a fulfilling life?
  • What skills will I need to help him build?
  • How will I work on those skills on a daily basis?

No matter where your child will live, where he will work, or what tasks he will be required to do, by helping him work on meaningful skills today you will help him become more self-sufficient tomorrow.

In the final part of this series, I offer resources for life skill acquisition.


  1. Mardra

    Every person does better and learns better about/with areas they are interested in and care about, this is no different in people with special needs. This is a great list and outline for priorities, I would only add the obvious (which I believe is insinuated with the Happy goal) that at all points and as soon as possible, be sure the child is involved in the decisions process.

    • Gabriella Volpe

      You’re absolutely right, Mardra. If a child can indeed participate in the decision-making process, then he should absolutely be a part of it. Some children, however, will not be able to make that directly. This is what I suspect with my son, who is non-verbal and requires our assistance for all parts of his life. I would say that parents need to be in tune with their child in order to figure that kind of thing out. Paying attention to likes and dislikes and combining the interests with what we would hope for his life in the long-term is the best way to go about it. Thanks for your reply. I appreciate you being here.

  2. Jolene Philo

    This process is so sound. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details and forget that character development comes first and is the first step on the path to adulthood. Thanks for adding it to’s Tuesday special needs link share!

    • Gabriella Volpe

      Thank you for this comment, Jolene.

More Resources

Continue reading my essays, activities, and case studies for supporting the education of disabled/chronically ill and neurodivergent children.