Tips for Success for New Independent Living Skills Trainers

Health professionals who decide on a career in assisting survivors of traumatic brain injury must master an extensive list of qualities and skills in order to be successful and provide the best client care possible.

An Independent Life Skills Trainer (ILST) focuses on assisting TBI survivors in re-learning and reinforcing everyday processes that get them through everyday life. An ILST’s main goal is to assist their clients in living their most independent life based on their client’s needs and what they deem most important.

In addition to formal training, which can include a bachelor’s or associate’s degree and experience in working with individuals with a disability, a successful ILST will also possess a long list of soft skills that will give them the advantage in caring for clients.

By definition, ILSTs are tasked with assisting their clients to live as independently as possible at home and in the community. They assist in aiding their client in recovering skills that have been affected by the onset of a TBI.

As an ILST, you will provide training on independent living skills to individuals with a Brain Injury. An ILST’s main goal is to assist their clients in living their most independent life based on what the clients deem important.

This may consist of:

• Functional Communication (starting and ending conversations, staying on topic, eye contact, turn taking)

• Interpersonal Skill Development & Self Advocacy

• Resource and Benefits Coordination

• Household Management (paying bills, setting up appointments, maintenance needs)

• Recreational Activities

• Medication Supervision/Reminders

• Physical Care and Hygiene

• Task Completion

• Socialization, Community Participation, Sensory Motor Skills, Transportation Training

• Problem Solving Skills

• Financial Management Skills

• Home Environment Maintenance

Set Targets

The first step to being a successful ILST is to decide which skill or activity to target. Choose something that your TBI survivor client considers important. Plan to upgrade independence in only one or two skills to start with before moving on to more complex activities.

Decide Your Starting Point

Next, decide which part(s) of the activity part(s) of the activity the person needs help with first. Initiate the activity in the first place – to get started and assess your client’s starting point.


If your client is experiencing difficulty with a specific task, think about whether the task could be modified or whether you could implement compensatory strategies to complete the task.

For example, if reinforcing cooking skills, you can guide your client to purchasing prepped foods if they do not have the physical strength to prepare all the ingredients.

Teaching strategies

As an ILST you will eventually develop your own methods of teaching and working with your different clients. Here are some key strategies you can use.

1. Demonstration

Demonstrate/model how you would perform the activity. If necessary, demonstrate a number of times so that the person understands. Get the person to practice the actions or repeat the steps verbally to you. You can also use a written checklist to help the client remember the steps they need to perform.

2. Instruction

Try to use as many methods of instruction as possible, so you can discover which method works best for your client. You can use written checklists, photos/pictures, or other visual aids, demonstrations, or recordings. Keep your instructions the same each time and keep them concise in easy-to-understand language.

Give the person time to complete each step before instructing them how to perform the

next step. Allow them time to think for themselves. This may lengthen your contact time, but when an individual with a brain injury is rushed, they can become overwhelmed, distracted, and not be able to focus on the activity.

3. Routine

A lot of people learn by having a consistent weekly routine. For example, every Tuesday, check cupboards and make a shopping list ready for Wednesday’s shopping trip. It is important to try to keep to a set structure/timetable.

Routine can also include getting up at a similar time each day and going to bed at a similar time each day. This is especially important for those people that experience high levels of fatigue following a traumatic brain injury.

4. Feedback

To help someone stay motivated when working on a goal you need to provide feedback about

their performance. The feedback needs to be honest and accurate. Feedback is often more effective if it is on measurable qualities, e.g. ‘this week it took you 30 minutes to make lunch, whereas last week it took 40’.

5. Environment

Try to teach in a quiet environment with few distractions, e.g. turn off the radio, televisions, and mobile devices. Think about using the environment to cue behaviors, e.g., using an alarm clock to wake someone up or a whiteboard to list ‘jobs for today’.

Diving into your role as a new ILST requires a combination of knowledge, discovering your personal style in caring for your client, and finding out which skill each client wishes to master first. 

Apply to be an ILST