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How can autism impact on functional skills?

How can autism impact on functional skills?

There is a saying, ‘you meet one person with autism, you meet one person with autism’. Every autistic person is different. Autism can impact on a child’s functional skills, the skills needed to carry out day-to-day activities, but this can vary from child to child. 

Here are some of the basic functional skills that can be impacted by autism.


  • Communicating - Some children with autism struggle to communicate. For example, they might be completely non-verbal, struggle with social cues or have echolalia. Communication may or may not improve, but there are aids that you can use to support your child, such as visual aids like PECs or by breaking down your communicating so that things are easier for them to understand.
  • Personal hygiene - An autistic child might struggle with their personal hygiene and may need prompted or helped to wash, brush their teeth, and use things like deodorant.
  • Getting dressed - Some autistic children have poor fine and gross motor skills, which can make getting dressed difficult. 

  • Toileting - Lots of children with autism are incontinent and are unable to use a toilet. Some children can use a toilet but need help. 

  • Eating and drinking – Eating and drinking can be affected by sensory issues, which can determine what foods children are able to tolerate eating. They might have difficulty with the texture, smell or sight of some foods. Poor fine and gross motor skills might also mean that a child needs help to eat or aids to do so, such as a weighted spoon or angled cutlery. 

  • Reading and writing – An autistic child might not be able to read or write or might do so at a lower level to their age group.

  • Sleeping – Lots of children with autism find it difficult to sleep and require sleeping aids, such as melatonin. Sleep deprivation in turn can impact on other functional skills.

    The impact on functional skills for a child with special needs


    The above are the basic functional skills that may be impacted, but other skills such as time management and organisational skills may also be affected.

    All of these functional skills have a great impact on a person’s day-to-day life and the level of support that they require at home and in school.

    There are strategies that can be used to help your child with their functional skills, such as identifying goals and breaking down tasks into small steps. Ideally, you should work with your child’s school so that you are both using the same techniques to help them. 

    If you have any concerns, please ensure that you speak to your child’s GP or paediatrician.

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