Individualized Support Plans: Adaptive Functioning & Life Skills

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Previously we discussed that intellectual disabilities have two defining features. These are limitations in: 1) intellectual functioning and 2) adaptive functioning. In the previous section, we discussed how Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) are developed to improve intellectual functioning. This is accomplished by providing educational supports. Specifically, we discussed the individual educational plans (IEPs) created for school-age children with intellectual disabilities (ID, formerly mental retardation).

Although similar, the IEPs and individualized support plans (ISPs) are not the same. An ISP is much broader than an IEP. This is because an ISP covers both intellectual functioning (e.g. education) and adaptive functioning. For school age children, the IEPs will usually address both intellectual and adaptive functioning. Adaptive functioning refers to a set of skills needed for daily living. Three broad sets of skills make up adaptive functioning. These are conceptual skills, social skills, and practical life skills. These skills were previously reviewed. In this section, we turn our attention to the ISP and adaptive functioning.


For many adults with intellectual disabilities, the adaptive functioning component of their ISP is primary. ISPs are developed as part of the public and private services available to people with intellectual disabilities. Therefore, these ISPs emphasize the supports needed to improve adaptive functioning. As we have mentioned, the availability of services varies by state and county. We review services that are commonly available. You can get information about the specific services available in your community by contacting your county or state office of human services.

Individual support plans (ISPs) and supportive services are typically provided through community-based, social service programs. Supportive services may continue throughout a person's lifetime. Alternatively, they may be delivered on an intermittent "as needed" basis. The ISP will describe what services and supports are needed to ensure each individual's ongoing success. These plans promote independence and self-determination of people with intellectual disabilities.

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Standardized tests are frequently used to assess adaptive abilities and limitations. One such test is the Supports Intensity Scale (Thompson, et. al, 2004). The first section of this commonly used assessment tool rates a person's abilities and limitations in six areas. These are: 1) home living; 2) community living; 3) life-long learning; 4) employment; 5) health and safety; and 6) social activities. Once support needs are identified, the ISP proposes support strategies to meet those needs. More information about the Support Intensity Scale can be found at For adults with intellectual disabilities, the ISP typically targets the skills and supports needed for independent living. These include social skills training, supported employment, and supported housing.

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