Autism chores? What a bore! Helping at home doesn’t have to be that way! When it comes to kids with autism doing chores and helping around the house, well-chosen domestic duties can be fun and become a great way to teach independence. Having autism does not mean that doing chores is out of the question. Quite the opposite, actually. Don’t underestimate the willingness of a child or teen with autism to help out around the house or yard.
Sometimes with little else to feed the self-esteem, doing chores can be a wonderful way to increase participation in family life and raise confidence. The key is to think keenly about chores which will encourage your unique child rather than frustrate him/her. Then, plan how to teach doing the chore so the child will be successful. (Success may not mean that the job is done perfectly well or in the manner we as adults would do it). It may take a lot of instruction, many prompts, and several trials, but just like everything else in life, practice makes proficient (not perfect).
Visual Supports for Autism Chores
Kids with autism can do chores around the house and yard. After selecting a basic and preferably uncomplicated chore (such as dusting a shelf) create a visual support. Think about how many steps your child can handle: if chores are brand new, maybe three steps are enough. Perhaps an older child, or one who has already been helping with domestic duties, can handle five or six steps. Portray each step visually (PECs are a great resource) and provide simple words. The parent can determine an appropriate layout: would one step per page work, or can the steps be on one page and laid out from top to bottom? Try not to overlook these details because gearing the aids to how your child thinks will improve his/her comprehension of the task.
Less Than Perfect is Perfect!
With the visual support for the chore you have chosen, work alongside your child (at least initially). Model the correct sequence. Try not to take over or re-do any of the “less than perfect” attempts; this isn’t about perfection and no one wants to build anxiety. If your child learns from watching videos, have someone record the lesson so s/he can see her/himself working. It might be helpful to incorporate steps that break down the task into beginning, middle, and end.
For example, when dusting a shelf, first we remove the items from the shelf (have a picture of hands taking items off shelf). Next, we use the dust cloth (or a sock?) to wipe the shelf from left to right (do you want to teach how to use spray?). Last, we put the items back on the clean shelf (perhaps have a photo of the clean shelf with a thumbs-up).
When teaching kids with autism to do chores, stay positive and upbeat. Unless they work well with timers, stay clear of time limits for the job. There should not be consequences for missed steps or incomplete efforts. Simply reteach the steps and employ more visuals or more prompts.
Also, recruiting siblings or friends to assist in the chores might be encouraging. If your child or teen likes a friendly competition, design a household or backyard chore to be a game where, for example, the one who finishes first gets to pick a movie to watch together. Additionally, entice your child with autism to help out around the house by playing his/her favorite music while doing a chore, or treat them to a special food or game when s/he is done.
Hygiene or Household Task?
A child with autism might see brushing teeth or washing hands as a chore. Therefore, consider separating hygiene routines from household duties. There are things we do every day to take care of our bodies, and there are tasks we perform to take care of our homes. However, if the way you teach a chore is successful and can be transferred to the way you teach hygiene, go for it! The bottom line is to increase competency, teach the value of participating, and foster engagement.
Autism Chores for your child
Here are some suggestions for chores you can teach your child with autism to do, as well as tips on how to do them:
- Water plants (put a popsicle stick in the pot with a number on it; the number indicates how many cups of water to use on that plant).
- Replenish toilet and tissue paper in the bathrooms (designate a cabinet or basket where spare rolls or boxes can go).
- Vacuum a bedroom (to help see the results, consider sprinkling carpet powder on the floor – preferably nontoxic brands).
- Set the table (butcher paper can be used as a blueprint for where plates, glasses, and silverware go – it also makes for easy clean up).
- Rake leaves or pull weeds (use a Hula hoop as your collection area).
- Bring mail to the mailbox and collect mail from it (use a breakfast-in-bed tray or a satchel).
Want to match certain chores to your child’s developmental level? Check out TACA for a comprehensive list.
Have a child who wants more control or needs the power of choice? Check out the DOT Method.
Autism Speaks has a wonderful chart parents can use to teach chores. When the chores are completed and recorded, the child accumulates coins. The coins then convert to dollars which can be saved, shared, or spent.
Don’t Give Up on Autism Chores
Finally, don’t give up on your child as they learn to do chores. For those of us who have been mastering our domestic duties for decades, it might be easy to lose patience during the learning process. Imagine if someone put you behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer and asked you to drive it to Lake Tahoe on the back roads. There might be fear, apprehension, sweaty palms, and outright resistance! Yet, with a caring mentor, some training videos, a little hands-on instruction, and an experienced driver by your side, you could do it.
Other Autism Chores Resources
Printable chore charts
More resources can be found in our Special Needs category.
Keri is a special needs parent and a veteran high school English and journalism teacher turned writer. She enjoys writing, reading, painting, hiking, gardening, cooking, wine tasting, and practicing yoga. She a passion for creating awareness for and acceptance of differently-abled individuals. Visit her blog at www.kerimehome.com.View All Posts