Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Teaching Self-Care Skills to Children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

When our challenged Aspergers kids are young, it’s natural for parents to want to do things for them. Learning new skills is frustrating, and finding ones at the right developmental level is tricky. However, recognizing that Aspergers kids can never have any degree of independence if moms and dads don’t teach them to take care of themselves is an important step first toward showing your Aspie "the ropes."

For some Aspergers kids, even the simplest things require carefully thought-out teaching. Lacing-up shoe strings, dressing, hand-washing, teeth-brushing, bed-making, etc. are all projects you may want to tackle with your youngster, but it's not always easy to see how to teach things that seem so simple and so obvious.

One of the most useful instructions is teaching skills backwards: Do everything for your youngster up to the final step, then let him complete the task at hand (e.g., give shoelaces that last tightening tug). Gradually, over days or weeks, you’ll add more and more steps until he is starting at the very beginning. It’s a great way to ensure that teaching sessions always end with success.

Here are some more important tips for teaching self-care skills:

1. Be consistent. Use the same cues, gestures, words, prompts, and procedures.

2. Because moms and dads often lack the time or energy to spend long hours of intense work with the youngster, most activities must be planned to fit into the routine of the day, or they will not be carried out (e.g., when traveling in the car, work on “the use of hand wipes” after your child has taken the last lick of his ice cream cone).

3. Do not hurry; be patient. Progress may be slow at first. It's normal to feel some frustration. Think back to when you last learned a difficult task. If you need to take a break or relax, go ahead.

4. Give both the youngster positive feedback and lots of encouragement for his efforts.

5. If one way does not work, try another way until you find one that does!

6. Once the youngster can do a skill, let her do it on her own – even if it takes longer. If your youngster thinks you will help, she will stall long enough for you to do it. The youngster needs to know that she can do things and that her mother and father can expect that of her.

7. Once the steps to a particular task have been identified, you can choose to use – and then fade-out – physical prompts with backward or forward chaining. In backward chaining, full manipulation of the youngster is given on all steps until the last one, which the youngster performs independently. As training progresses, prompts are faded to the next to the last step and so on until the youngster performs the entire task without help. In forward chaining, fading begins with the first step, and then assistance is given on the others. Forward chaining should be used if the youngster already knows some of the steps.

8. Seize teachable moments (e.g., if all of a sudden one day your Aspie decides he is going to make his first peanut butter sandwich all by himself – and it’s not going so well – stop what you are doing and turn the experience into a “sandwich making” lesson.

9. Some moms and dads feel that they can only work on one specific objective at a time. They become very concerned with small tasks and forget to let the youngster be a kid. During times such as bathing, outside exploring, feeding, washing dishes and playing, many skills can be taught or reinforced without thinking things like: "I cannot do that now, I am working on another skill this week" or "I do not know all the steps to teach that skill yet."

10. Teach skills within age-appropriate, functional activities with real objects to help the youngster generalize information.

11. Analyze the behaviors involved in completing a certain task. Write those steps down into a workable sequence, and then put it in “social story” format.

12. Try doing the task in question yourself – blindfolded! What steps do you go through? How do you do it? How would you deal with the difficult steps?

13. Use common sense. Teach new skills when and where they happen so that the youngster learns there is a reason for what he is doing.

14. Use of consistent routines is critical. Routines give the youngster a sense of control and an understanding of what comes next or what will happen. When routines are disrupted, the Aspergers youngster may be fussy and take a day or two to get back into the routine.

15. Reward yourself and your youngster for the "big" successes that occur (e.g., “Great! You have officially learned how to tie your shoes. Hurray!!! Let’s go get an ice cream cone to celebrate.”).

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook


Anonymous said...

To teach something so simple is soo hard. Right now I'm trying to get him to tie his own shoes and it's not going well at all.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried the "reverse chaining" method of shoe-tying? YOU do the beginning steps of the process, then let your child finish up the knot. This way, your child may experience the good feelings that come with having a finished product. Worth a try?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hutten, I just want to say how incredibly grateful we are to have found your resources. Thank you for publishing these articles for our awareness, instruction, and encouragement.

Anonymous said...

A task as simple as shoe tying can be so frustration for both the aspergers child as well as their parents. My sixteen year old still has major problems with this.

Anonymous said...

My 12 yr old refuses to tie his shoes

Anonymous said...

We finally quit trying to force the issue with our son--it was just too difficult for him to get the laces pulled tight etc. Now I buy "iBungee Stretch Laces" at Amazon for all his shoes;they are designed for marathon runners & turn any shoe into a slip-on when you replace the regular laces with these-So Awesome!! a life saver for us & him(he is almost 15)

Anonymous said...

Mine is 8... I just try to simplify things too! I avoid shoes with laces for her, I know how hard it was for me to learn to tie my shoes when I was a young AS kid myself and we have more important things to worry about in life. But some things I am teaching her gradually. Every day, she has to put away her shoes and coat, and put her dishes in the sink. That is her only chore. It doesn't sound like much, but for her, it takes a huge effort and every single day, she forgets. So I think just giving them very small goals and rewarding them when they master them is really important. It is already hard enough to feel behind in so many complex skills other kids are mastering. If I try to get her to learn something and she becomes too distracted and frustrated, I drop it, or have her do just a part of it. She can't make her own bed yet (we've tried) but she can have fun folding the coverlet and arranging it at the foot of the bed. She can't take the trash out yet, but she can put her wrappers in the trash instead of just dropping them wherever she is. Seriously, it's like she has no sense of place or time, she just throws things everywhere she goes! ;P

richard rivera said...

Im about to start teaching my nephew (aspie) how to tie his shoes. Its not gonna be easy. But thank u for the 41 on the bungee laces. Sounds like that is the route to go if he gets too frustrated . Im getting him a bike I hope he caj ride it. He can ride a scooter very well so im hoping he can do it. He has q problem pedaling even on big wheel so I dont kno w

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content