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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Teaching Kids with Autism Responsibility Using Visuals

Teaching our children with autism responsibility and independent living skills is one of the most important things that we as parents (or professionals) can do to prepare them for adult life. Our kids are capable of learning many things, but sometimes even those with IQs off the chart can struggle with the most basic tasks.

Often it is a matter of breaking tasks down to make the steps more concrete. We talked recently about using visuals to structure play, and visuals are also a great tool for teaching responsibility and independence. These are some of the visuals that we use in our house to make daily living tasks easier for our son to complete (which reduces frustration all around!).

Make the Abstract Concrete: Toy Clean Up Chart

Like many small children, getting our son to clean up his toys was a daily battle (and that cutesy "Clean Up" song was useless!). One day it occurred to me that what I was assuming was willfully obstinate behavior was actually a sign that my son was overwhelmed. "Clean up your toys" was simply too abstract. The solution: a simple chart that showed him how to clean up toys. Like any child, he would still rather play than clean up, but at least now he knows what to do!

Simplify Sequencing: The Shoe Chart

We often hear about the importance of presuming confidence in individuals with ASD, particularly for those who may lack an effective system of communication. Presuming confidence is essential, but there is also the risk of over-presuming competence in those on the spectrum who have a lot of language (notice I said "language", not "communication - the terms are not interchangeable). Just because your child has memorized the periodic table or can spell words before other kids learn the alphabet does not mean that they will be equally skilled at daily living tasks. (Stay tuned for more on this in an upcoming post.)

Case in point: my son used to ask for help to put on his shoes, a task which I assumed he could handle. Then I had an a-ha moment when I noticed he never asked for help with his sandals, which he could slip his feet into without opening the Velcro. The problem wasn't laziness, it was sequencing! Working with my son as the model, we made a step-by-step chart showing how to put on a pair of sneakers. From that day on, he could do it without help.

 Keeping Track of Chores: The Fish Feeding Chart

My son recently got a betta fish (welcome, Firetip!) and feeding the fish is his responsibility. He is happy enough to do it, but it was hard for him to remember if he had fed the fish on any given day. The answer was a simple chart he can use to keep track of the last time he fed Firetip. Visuals to the rescue again!

Make it Fun: Laundry Sorting Labels

With a laminator and some zip ties, you can label anything!

Anyone who is familiar with the principles of TEACCH and structured teaching knows that our kids with autism tend to do very well with sorting tasks. I decided that my 5 year old was certainly ready to begin putting his own laundry in the basket (actually he was probably ready a couple of years ago!), but to make it fun and give him independence, I added simple labels to each basket. Now he can sort his laundry into cold, warm, or hot with minimal adult help. Not only does it make my life easier, but he feels proud that he knows how to sort his own laundry. There is nothing better as a parent than to see your child develop independent living skills and a sense of pride at his accomplishments.

Do you use visuals in your house? We would love to hear about your successes!

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