From cooking to cleaning, find out how you can teach your child with autism the necessary skills for everyday life.
I am often asked when parents should start preparing their children and young adults with autism for launching into independence. The simple answer is now. The longer answer: it is never too early to start developing the vast skills that are needed to live independently so your child has time to practice these skills in a supportive environment. We all need time to learn how to take care of ourselves, how to use equipment such as the washer, dryer and stove, and how to have good time management for at home activities. Here are a few ideas to help your child prepare for independent living.
Have your child prepare something he/she enjoys eating to help him/her develop the skills for meal prep. Ask the child to pick a recipe or have him/her shadow a parent/guardian while he/she cooks. Once the meal is chosen, he/she can prepare a grocery list. He/She can either do the shopping on his/her own or have someone take him/her and assist while in the store. This is a good time to talk about how and when to shop; some people like to plan meals and shop for the week, while others like to shop for a month at a time. These are good conversations to have as each person will have different preferences.
Other key points to have your child consider are what time the meal will be served, how many people are eating, and whether they have any dietary restrictions.
Making a meal allows your child to practice planning ahead and learn how to use kitchen tools in a relatively supervised fashion. Learning to cook can take some time, but it is a fun, useful activity.
Some clients have told me that they never learned how to properly do their laundry. Having your child prepare his/her clothes for laundering is a great step toward independence!
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Discuss with your child why it’s important to sort clothes based on color and care instructions and choose the right kind of detergent. Show him/her how to use the machines and measure soap and softener. Talk about when to remove the wet clothes from the washing machine for air- or machine-drying in order to avoid the dreaded washer funk!
Establish a laundry schedule for clothing, bedding, and towels, as these items will need laundering at various times each month. Your child should also know indicators that it’s time to do laundry, such as a full hamper or a dwindling supply of socks. Having your child pay attention to his/her clothing and housewares is a great opportunity to teach self-sufficiency.
Cleaning and products
Teaching your child how to clean spaces in the home is a valuable lesson, and it may not be as easy as you would expect. Clients have told me that they used “all-purpose” cleaner on everything—countertops, bathroom surfaces, a stain on a couch, clothing—and ruined their items. I have also been told clients did not know they needed separate rags and sponges when cleaning different surfaces like toilets and countertops. This was truly an a-ha moment for some of my clients!
Using virtual technology, I have demonstrated how to clean spaces in my own home for clients. We discussed what products should be used and for what purpose. First, we talked about creating a cleaning kit and what items were needed, such as paper towels, sponges, cloth rags, brooms, and vacuums, along with the importance of having a variety of cleaning products for all the rooms in a home. We found a simple checklist online that included dust polish and glass, toilet, countertop, and bathtub cleaners. Some people do not like having cleaners touch their skin, so a pair of reusable gloves is a good tool as well.
When doing a demonstration, we talked about how to start cleaning a room—start high and work your way down or clean similar surfaces and spaces in the home. Some people like doing all the dusting in the home before moving to another task. Others like cleaning one room at a time. I create a chore chart that outlines a client’s preferred method of cleaning; if he/she likes to clean by task, we create a chart with vacuuming, sweeping, dusting, wiping down the counters, laundry, etc. If he/she likes to clean by room, the list will show the bathroom, living room, bedroom, kitchen, etc.
Time to get started
Even though there is never a perfect time to launch into independence, practicing as early and as often as possible is a good start. Have your child give things a try, allowing him/her to think through the process. In some cases, our children may fail, like my clients who used the wrong cleaner, but this is a good opportunity to learn while in a supported environment.
As parents, knowing our children have the skills to take care of themselves is comforting. Try practicing some at-home tasks with your child by allowing him/her to be the doer and you become the cheerleader and supporter; the skills learned will truly be invaluable!
This article was featured in Issue 116 – Enhancing Communication Skills