Children (Generally speaking) love to “help”. But when the sweet boy in question is your moderate-verbal 11 year old with Autism, you feel to throw a humongous party of exaggerate proportions just because you know exactly what it means: LIFE SKILLS! And we all know how important life skills are for children on the Autism spectrum.
You see, in order to understand how this mom feels you need to have met him some years ago. This is why I always say that in Autism, changes occur all the time. They can really surprise you. If you ever watched Pokemon, you will see that the characters evolve and when they do, they possess greater skills than ever before. I feel my boys are a little like Pokemons.
King #2 has become “My Helper” at home. He does chores without being asked to or prompted to. He loves the feeling of accomplishment that comes along with it. Plus who doesn’t love some extra-words of praise from your parents when you are doing such a terrific job? It is a big deal for all of us, but him particularly because these are chores he has seen me do for years.
It makes him feel proud and accomplished. The same feeling he gets when he stands next to you, compares his height with your short self and smiles when he is realizing that he will reach you in just a short period of time. Or when he buys his own snack at the grocery store and pays with his own money.
The greatest part of all, it is his attitude towards these chores. He does it with glee and a big smile on his face. Of course, he also wants to show you how amazing he is at them so every time he does a chore, he calls you to show you what an excellent helper he is. Let me type a list of some of the things he does:
1. Set table for lunch/dinner correctly.
2. Clear up the table after eating.
3. Make his own bed.
4. Make his younger brother’s bed.
5. Fold laundry.
6. Clean table after eating.
7. Prepare night clothes.
8. If there is no helper in the supermarket, he bags our groceries.
9. Carry some grocery bags to our vehicle.
10. He puts away the trolley.
He is now looking forward to learn how to wash dishes. It is a big deal for him. After all, like he says: “I am tall, I am 11 years old”. That’s right, you are and we are all very proud of your accomplishments.
I am sure you are wondering, how did you go about teaching all of this to a child who has processing related challenges and has limited verbal skills? The following are just some of the things I learned:
DO NOT ASSUME NOR LIMIT YOUR CHILD
I think as individuals, we tend to assume a lot about others including our own children. Just because a child on the spectrum cannot talk, does not mean they do not understand. Just because they might not say much, doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say. Just because they do not do things as neuro-typical children do, does not mean they cannot do it. They CAN. In their own way and time but they CAN.
So I will say first, we need to change our mindset with regards to our children. We need to BELIEVE they can accomplish these things because at the end of the day, if their own parents don’t believe in them…Who else will?
Do not limit your child thinking he cannot do X or Y just because you tried once or twice. No one accomplishes a task after trying a few times. Sometimes it takes lots of practice and practice makes perfect.
It is very easy to give up quickly and end up doing the chores we want to be done in a “certain” way. But the picture is bigger than we think. This isn’t about us wanting things to be done in a particular way; this is about our children learning how to survive in the world. So what if the table has not been perfectly clean, it is PERFECT because your child did it and tried his/her best.
EXPOSURE IS KEY
Sometimes, exposure is hard for Autism parents because they might be afraid of possible meltdowns. And we are all so tired that we try to avoid those situations at all costs. But exposure is how our children learn best. By observing others when you think they are not, by having one on one experience in places that they will need to go when they are independent.
King #2 used to have some serious meltdowns at the supermarket. So stressful that more than once we had to leave our groceries right on the spot and go home. If King #3 was with us, even worse. They would get into serious fights and meltdowns would erupt.
But the solution did not lie on “let’s stop going to the grocery”. No, we would take him right back every time until he was able to cope with it. Now, we can all go to the supermarket without major issues. It did not happen overnight, but exposure has been key.
GIVE OPPORTUNITIES TO GROW
If we want our children to accomplish these things and more, we need to give them tasks and opportunities to grow. It is very important that these tasks/chores/opportunities are given according to capacity/ emotional maturity rather than age.
We need to give them chores they can handle easily, things that will encourage them to want to be more involved. One chore at the time and as they get more confident, we need to add more.Things that can make them feel proud and by doing so, improve their self-esteem.
PRAISE IS VITAL
Praising your child for trying his/her best is a vital aspect of success and a way to show you love them. It helps them know they have done a wonderful job and you appreciate them. In turn, they will want to do more which is what we want to accomplish as Autism parents. It is also important, because you are raising a child that one day you hope will become fully independent. Confidence is key to live a fulfilling and productive life.
I hope these tips can help you. Please let me know how your own helper is doing and what he/she is accomplishing over time, I would love to know! Don’t worry; it is not a race, so take it easy. Remember, every little accomplishment counts!