Sometimes families and teachers inadvertently fall into the trap of teaching individuals with autism helplessness. We do this by giving them too much assistance. Because of the fast pace of living, it is easier to just take care of meals, dressing, housework, classroom tasks, and other routine daily living issues. Not only are we promoting “learned helplessness,” but we are also robbing our friends with autism of the satisfaction of completing self-responsibilities and participating in their community.
Although many individuals with autism are self-sufficient, others need a great deal of support and assistance with every aspect of daily living. No matter their abilities, every person with autism can lend a helping hand at home, at school, and at work, giving them the satisfaction of pitching in and a sense of accomplishment.
Self-care tasks. We tend to take care of our own basic needs without thought, making it easy to overlook skills that may need to be taught step-by-step. The very basics include dressing, bathing, washing hands, brushing teeth, hair care, shaving, eating, getting ready for bed, sleeping independently, moving from place to place, riding in a car, and following simple instructions. More sophisticated self-care tasks include preparing meals, shopping, laundry, managing money, independently getting ready for school or a job, and asking for assistance when necessary.
Chores. To encourage a sense of accomplishment and self-responsibility, systematically teach and assign chores at home, school, and work. In order to develop a routine, consider starting with tasks that must be done every day. For example, choose from this list of daily household chores: check the mailbox, give the dog and/or cat food and water at scheduled times, water the plants, use a dust mop or push broom, put clothes in the washer and/or dryer, make beds, sort and put away clean silverware, help carry in groceries, take the dog for a walk, dust, fold towels, or help with meal preparation. Some people may need help and oversight, and others may only be able to accomplish parts of these daily chores, but we can start slowly and raise the bar to learn the next step.
TIP FOR THE DAY. When our friends with autism are young, it is certainly easy for us to adopt an attitude of saving time by doing everything for them. But, this learned helplessness drastically limits the possibilities for teen years and adulthood. Consider systematically teaching self-help skills and gradually adding to their self-responsibilities so individuals with autism can participate in their community and become as self-sufficient as possible.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com