For children with autism, household chores are often overlooked in favour of other learning targets like social skills or academic performance. Some parents also do not consider chores as a possibility for their child to learn. However, all children will grow up one day, and will benefit from possessing a level of independence. We should always work towards increased independence for our children, whether it’s as small as keeping clothes away or making their bed.
Even now, at your child’s current age, taking on some simple chores teaches them numerous important lessons. When they successfully complete a task that they once thought was too difficult, they will gain a sense of pride and accomplishment, building up their confidence to tackle other difficult situations (Hong et al., 2017). Taking responsibility for some chores also allows them to understand that helping out keeps the house clean and running smoothly, guiding them to be more aware of the daily processes around them, which they might not realise otherwise. Additionally, chores emphasise cause and effect too – if they do not keep their area clean and tidy, they will have difficulty finding what they want when it gets messy. Chores are also a great way to spend time together with your child beyond just playing or doing homework!
Many children with autism struggle with completing household chores as the chores might be too complex for them to understand, or too physically demanding. Nevertheless, with small modifications or supports, chores can become a part of your child’s daily routine. Here are 3 steps to help you on your household journey with your child:
1. Assess your child’s suitability for each chore
The first step of this process should be picking an appropriate household chore for your child. You will have to consider your child’s ability to understand how to complete a chore, including the variations and nuances of each chore (e.g. knowing how to hang different types of clothing correctly). Another point to consider is your child’s physical ability to handle the chore. Does the chore require complex fine motor skills (e.g. using clothespins)? Does it require a lot of movement or physical strength (e.g. scrubbing surfaces)?
Next, consider your child’s motivation to complete the chore. Some chores may be difficult for them, and they might not be able to comprehend the necessity of the chores. For these types of chores, your child may become unmotivated to learn them well. It is key to pick a chore that is highly motivating to your child. Chores that personally affect your child (e.g. tidying up the playroom, making his own drinks), or chores that are fun (e.g. using the vacuum cleaner) are good options to choose. The more naturally reinforcing chores are, the easier they will be to teach.
2. Conduct task analysis
Task analysis is a technique where you break down a household chore into multiple smaller steps and teach your child each of these steps until they understand how to do the whole chore independently (Matson et al., 2012). Some steps may seem minor and intuitive to us, but your child might unexpectedly struggle with them. It will help to go through the chore and note down the steps as you complete it. You can either teach each individual step and chain them together afterwards, or teach one step at a time and add on the next step when your child is ready. For example, you can break down vacuuming into a. Turning the vacuum on and off, b. Moving the vacuum up and down, c. Moving the vacuum up and down from left to right, d. Vacuuming under furniture, e. Charging the vacuum.
3. Modify the chores
Your child may not be able to complete entire household chores on their own, but they are likely to be able to perform certain steps of the process independently. For instance, your child might not understand how to sort clothing into different types of wash settings e.g. hand wash, delicates, whites, darks. In this situation, you can take charge of sorting the clothing into baskets with the category labels and respective washing machine settings. Afterwards, your child can load the washing machine on their own.
These three strategies make the process of teaching household chores a less daunting and smoother experience for both you and your child. When your child learns chores that are tailored appropriately to their abilities, they will pick the skills up more easily, and also enjoy completing these chores. Household chores are certainly doable for children with autism, and can even become a source of enjoyment for them!
Written by Hazel.
Hong, E. R., Ganz, J. B., Morin, K., Davis, J. L., Ninci, J., Neely, L., & Boles, M. B. (2017). Functional living skills and adolescents and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Meta-analysis. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 52(3), 268-279.
Matson, J. L., Hattier, M. A., & Belva, B. (2012). Treating adaptive living skills of persons with autism using applied behavior analysis: A review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6(1), 271-276.