Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Adaptive (Self-Help) Development

Adaptive (Self-Help) Development: General Development1

Adaptive skills and behaviors are the skills needed to do everyday tasks. These skills are tools adults use to live independently within our community norms. They include dressing and undressing, bathing and hygiene, toileting, and later cleaning, cooking and maintaining a household.

Like all areas of development, the successful development of adaptive skills relies heavily on the successful development of other skills.

  • For instance, a child needs to have good fine motor skills in order to fasten snaps or hold a fork, spoon or chopsticks properly. Similarly, a child needs to have basic cognitive skills in order to understand when and how they need to wash his or her hands.

Like other developmental areas for most typically developing children, the development of adaptive skills follows a predictable order. Learning “simpler” skills  is crucial to the development of the more complex skills that are learned later on.

  • For instance, when a child becomes aware of their soiled diapers and is bothered by this event, then they are ready to start the toilet training process.

When developing dressing and undressing skills, children usually go through the following sequence of skills:

  • cooperating with dressing and undressing, e.g., extending arms and legs; putting head through opening of shirt
  • taking off certain items of clothing, with help
  • putting on simple items of clothing,e.g., a hat)
  • independently taking off certain items of clothing, e.g., shoes or socks
  • putting shoes on
  • independently putting on certain items of clothing, e.g., a T-shirt
  • unfastening snaps
  • unbuttoning buttons
  • fastening snaps
  • fastening buttons
  • helping to pull zipper down, then up
  • connecting a zipper and zipping it up
  • knowing what to wear, depending on the weather, e.g. coat for a rainy day; sunglasses if out in the sun


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