Increasing Independence With Activities of Daily Living

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

Helping an individual to live a more independent life is one of the main goals of many Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) programs. One way we do this is through what is called “prompting.” Prompting is a form of help that is given to a learner that instructs them what to do next. There are many different types of prompts, including:

Physical prompts (e.g., placing your hand over top of the learner’s hand to help them open a snack container)

Model prompts (e.g., putting a toy away in the box to show the learner where the pieces need to go)

Gestural prompts (e.g., pointing toward the soap after the learner has turned on the sink)

Verbal prompts (e.g., telling the learner, “go get your shoes”)

Visual prompts (e.g., a sign on a door that reads, “pull”)

Positional prompts (e.g., placing the garbage can closer to the learner after snack)

It is often discussed that prompts need to be “faded” or removed after the individual has learned the skill, but why? Many of the prompts mentioned above require another person to provide them. This means that the individual isn’t really exhibiting the skill on their own yet and it is important to fade the assistance provided by another person as soon as possible to avoid over-reliance on prompts. Visual prompts, on the other hand, do not always require another person. In fact, you use visual prompts all day long! Sticky notes, a reminder in your calendar, a phone alarm, and a grocery list are all forms of visual prompts that you reference to keep your day on track. Imagine someone saying that you needed to fade these from your life…how stressful would life become?! If a prompt can be used without the direct assistance of another person and it helps the individual complete the skill independently, there may be no reason to remove it.

Over the years, we have used lots of different visual prompts to help learners complete their daily tasks. We have compiled a list of some of the most common ones and we hope they get you thinking of creative ways that you can help your child or learner!

Independence in the kitchen: The microwave is an easy appliance to reheat meals. The number of buttons can be overwhelming, however, and some individuals can not read the words written on them. Consider adding coloured stickers to the buttons the individual will need to use and use instructions like, “press pink.

Setting the table is another way for your child to get involved with helping the family. You can print out an example of how you want the table to be set and put a copy on the table where each place setting needs to go (see image below). We have also used placemats from the dollar store and used a marker to draw outlines of each item (e.g., plate, cup, fork).

Independence in the bathroom: Step-by-step guides are fantastic ways to encourage independence with daily living activities. These can be written or pictorial (or a combination of both) and posted near where the activity will occur. For example, a guide to showering can be laminated and taped directly inside the shower. You can find many free pre-made guides online, but be sure that they match how you want your specific child or learner to complete the task. You will also want to consider how the learner best follows a step-by-step schedule. Do they need it to be laid out from left to right or from top to bottom? You may need to try both to see and that’s ok!

Independence with grocery shopping: Some learners are ready for more complicated daily living activities, such as grocery shopping. You can add more opportunities for independence by providing them with a written or pictorial list of what items they need to get. You will likely want to add the number of each item as well to avoid coming home with 30 apples!

We hope these examples inspire you to try something new with your child or learner! If you want to learn more about how you can increase independence with daily activities, contact us at