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The Cooke Special Education Blog

Cooke faculty share their knowledge to improve the education experience for all children.

Understanding Adaptive Skills

How Cooke Center helps our students to reach their goals for independence.



The Adaptive Skills Program

Cooke Center envisions a world in which people with special needs are included as valued members of their communities, leading independent and purposeful lives. This vision is vividly illustrated through its unique adaptive skills program! Adaptive skills refer to a student’s ability to perform everyday tasks, such as following instructions, managing their schedule, accessing resources in their community and navigating public transportation. Adaptive skills are important for strengthening core living skills and increasing independence as well as the student’s quality of life and well-being. Developing these skills allow for far more learning experiences to occur and can deepen peer relationships and interactions. Research has shown that an emphasis on these skills lead to better long-term outcomes for employment and social inclusion.


A staff member guides a student through the steps of purchasing a metro card (an important adaptive skill for New Yorkers!)

Our Approach

A multidisciplinary approach, comprehensive curriculum, and natural learning contexts are key components of the adaptive skills program, moving students toward ultimate goal of independence in the home, workplace, and community. Our curriculum was developed by a team of teachers, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and counselors. It weaves together three adaptive behavior domains and associated adaptive skills areas which include:

  • Conceptual Domain (which includes: Communication, Functional Academics and self-direction)
  • Practical Domain ( which includes: self-care, home/school living, community use and health and safety)
  • Social Domain (which includes: social skills, leisure skills and self-direction)

These broad domains and concepts are narrowed down to thematic units (ex: Wardrobe, Food & Nutrition, Health & Hygiene, etc.) which are sequenced across each student’s progression through the grade levels. This approach not only clearly defines the topics we cover over time, but also provides therapists, teachers, and families with common vocabulary, concepts, routines, strategies, etc. to utilize with students during each adaptive theme.



An occupational therapist reviews strategies for clothing choices prior to a community trip

Contexts and Adaptations:

Cooke Center’s state of the art facilities and vibrant surrounding neighborhoods provide natural learning contexts for our students. Our apartment labs at Cooke Center Academy and at SKILLs (equipped with essential household appliances) allow students to practice activities of daily living (ADLs) like meal preparation, wardrobe care, and . The surrounding neighborhoods provide endless opportunities for students to access community resources and develop problem solving skills in the moment through clothing/grocery shopping, visiting restaurants, and utilizing recreational facilities.

Providing services, instruction, and assessment within theses settings is also a key component of our adaptive skills program. Traditionally, service providers have addressed these skills during “pullout therapy sessions,” attempting to simulate real-life tasks in an isolated therapy room. These contrived scenarios frequently result in less meaningful outcomes for persons with intellectual disabilities. At Cooke our teachers and therapists address these skills in context accompanying our students on trips into the community, conducting lessons in our apartment lab, and providing rich social opportunities for interacting with peers.

Cooke’s wide range of assistive technology (AT) also enhances and strengthens each student’s adaptive skills. Common AT devices range from low technological devices such as pencil grips, picture boards, and rocker knives to sophisticated electronic devices like gps navigation systems, handheld computers, or vibrating pagers. These devices not only enhance instruction, but also provide highly individualized adaptations so students can engage more readily in workplace tasks, household routines, community navigation, etc.


Students wait in line at a local bank to make withdrawals for upcoming purchases in the community.


A tablet is utilized as a prompting tool during a student's internship.

Family Partnerships:

Cooke actively engages families and caregivers in every aspect of adaptive skills instruction and assessment. Families partner with us in the assessment process by completing formal,standardized assessments of adaptive functioning, as well informal surveys on performance in the home setting and their goals related to our curriculum (ex: I want my child to spend one hour alone each afternoon, I want my child to get dressed independently each school morning, etc.) Weekly newsletters provide a snapshot of our work at school and in the community and practical ways to reinforce these skills in the home setting. Staff provides frequent consultation on how to facilitate independence at home through a variety of approaches, including video-modeling, modified recipes, iPad applications, adapted utensils.


Families attend our annual Winter Fair, purchasing holiday items assembled and sold by our students.

Weaving it All Together:

Every two years at Cooke Center, a culminating project for the "Wardrobe" and "Money Management" units is presented. Our high school students host a Fashion Show attended by families, incoming 9th graders, and alumni. It is a wonderful illustration of how our adaptive skills curriculum "comes to life" in fun, meaningful, and innovative ways. Students plan and prepare for every aspect of this event, then they walk the runway in personally designed outfits. It serves as an opportunity to share what they have learned through our adaptive skills units (choosing outfits based on context or preferences, dressing independently, etc.) and academic content areas (managing personal budget, making a purchase, common wardrobes of other cultures, etc.). It is also a wildly popular, age-appropriate experience for our high-schoolers!!


Students some of what they have learned as they strut down the runway for their culmination project for the "Wardrobe" and "Money Management" units.

For more information about the Cooke Center Adaptive Skills Program, please contact:

Virginia Skar, CCC-SLP, Department Chair-Learning for Living Curriculum
vskar@cookecenter.org


Posted by rnicholson on Thursday April 21 at 02:10PM
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