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Household Chores Teach Independent-Living Skills



This article was contributed by Kathy Dolbee, Autism Resource Specialist for the Autism Society of North Carolina and autism mom.

“Can my child do household chores?”

The simple answer is, “Yes.” Teaching your child to do household chores is an important part of teaching him independent living skills. However, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Be careful not to presume that your child knows how to do the task just because he or she has seen it done by others.

Remember, kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are visual learners, and sometimes they have difficulty remembering all the steps of a particular job and sequencing those steps in the right order for the desired outcome.

Patiently teach your child, step by step, using visual supports. However, “thinking visual” doesn’t always mean using a checklist or schedule. For instance, if the floor of your child’s room is cluttered with toys – I am imagining a mixed mess of Legos, hot wheels, and plastic dinosaurs (are you picturing this?) – simply telling your child to clean up the room might not be the best way to get the job done. “Clean up your room” is a vague verbal instruction. Instead, consider providing three bins and turning it into a sorting task. If the task is too big, break it down into smaller, more do-able tasks in a clear and concrete way by using a hula hoop or even a broomstick to segment the job into smaller doses. Remember, kids with autism are often easily overwhelmed. They may crave structure, but they have difficulty creating it.

If the task still seems overwhelming to your child, use it as an opportunity to teach turn-taking. Sitting on the floor with your child, taking turns tossing toys into the appropriate bin is time well-spent, and a memory you will treasure. Some kids have fine motor issues that might make this task a special challenge. You can add to the fun by introducing a dust pan and teaching your child to scoop and dump into a bucket, “just like a construction machine”, even adding sound effects if that helps get the job done. Once the job is complete, consider taking a photograph as a future reference for what a “clean room” actually looks like.

Vacuuming becomes easier when you sprinkle the carpet with something to help your child see where to vacuum and to know when he or she is finished. My favorite is to use the round circles left by a hole punch.

Start off with simple tasks such as watering plants, putting books or videos on a shelf, or wiping the table. If you have several children, you can include them all in a game that was always popular in my classroom: “Dirtiest Wet Wipe Wins!” Simply pass out the wet wipes and the fun begins. It is usually not hard to determine which wet wipe is the dirtiest. The “prize” can be something as simple as getting to use the computer first, with second and third following. The game rewards the most diligent cleaner and at the same time teaches everyone to wait their turn, a vital social skill.

I guess the most important thing to remember is that our kids can and should participate in the normal, daily activities that make up real life. Doing so increases their sense of belonging, self-esteem, and confidence. It is also a vital first step toward independence.

If you are interested in learning more about creating a structured environment at home, please contact me and I’ll be glad to help.

Kathy Dolbee can be reached at kdolbee@autismsociety-nc.org.

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