We are so busy carting our children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to therapies, doctor appointments, school meetings, and more, that it’s easy to forget that some of the most important learning happens in the home. There, our children can practice the life skills needed to build independence.
When teaching household duties to our son Casey, my husband and I use the same strategies as when teaching any other skill:
• Start low, and go slow.
• Keep expectations reasonable.
• Make the activity rewarding.
• Be consistent in the implementation of procedures.
When Casey was five years old, we created a chore chart that was a simple grid decorated with his favorite characters. We started with two simple tasks we knew he could accomplish on his own: putting his dirty clothes in the laundry hamper at the end of the day and getting his own bath towel. The goal was to help Casey gain confidence while getting familiar with the chart.
At first, I had to remind him to use the chore chart, but pretty soon he took pride in remembering to check off the chores he’d done. We gave him tons of praise for being so responsible, which was a big motivator.
When an activity became a habit that Casey did without checking his chore chart, we replaced that task with a new one.
Casey is 10 years old now and is responsible for both personal chores (such as clearing his dinner plate from the table and plugging in his iPad) as well as household chores (such as washing laundry and dusting shelves).
In exchange for helping the household run smoothly, he gets a weekly allowance. Occasionally, he does larger tasks to earn extra money, such as cleaning the baseboards and helping to clean the outside stairs. I look forward to having him take over more chores when he is developmentally ready. These tasks will probably include washing the dishes, taking out the trash, and cleaning the bathroom. I can’t wait for that one!
To find a range of methods for teaching your child how to do household chores, I suggest going online or to a bookstore. Look for a method with suggested ages for developmentally appropriate tasks. For kids with autism, you may need to adjust your expectations and support, and some chores may not be possible or relevant.
You may also need to revise your reward system to one that rewards more frequently or whose rewards are more motivating. In the end, the extra effort is worth it because our kids will develop useful skills and gain confidence and pride in themselves as they become more capable and independent.
Sun contributor and parent Cory Gilden is researching human development and family studies as a graduate student at the University of Delaware’s college of education and human development. This text was edited for consistency of language and message and appears in the autumn 2018 issue of the Autism Delaware™ quarterly newsletter, The Sun.