Search This Site


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

When our challenged Aspergers or high-functioning autistic (HFA) 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 these 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 youngster "the ropes."

For some kids on the autism spectrum, 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 youngster 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 youngster on the spectrum 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.”).

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


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

Unknown 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

kapklein said...

What's the best approach to teach these kind of simple things with a high functioning spectrum guy who is already 14 and still not doing some basics like teeth brushing effectively. So, we are beyond when he will allow us to help him, and, to use the tooth brushing example, he technically does it (puts brush in mouth, with or without toothpaste) and perhaps move it around for a few seconds (but only in one area, or maybe only by biting on it), but he does not actually get his teeth clean. And dental visits are TORTURE for all involved. In addition, some of the basic skills he still needs are 'sensitive' in nature, i.e. he does not shower properly (he'll get in only with monumental efforts to make him do so, and then doesn't apply soap, say). Another tricky spot is he does not wipe himself after using the bathroom. Are there steps to help in teaching a teen self care?

Unknown said...

My son is 9 i have notice he has all those same things happing as well i learned u just have to keep telling him it does get better if u remind them to do so daily use soap . Clean but good . Wash hands after dinner/eating he is using a knife which was heart dropping so if he could do thst he can do anything u just have to put the effort even have him working in the yard .. i know my child was spending all his time on ghe youtube or the tablet i have limit the time down to 1 hr n it helps getts him more motivated to do other things .. so if urs is stuck on electronics slow remove from weekly atives n give them other things to do chores make it worth it. Pay them fod the chores done it helps show them daily actives brushing the teeth well do urs at the same time n have him mimic you might help thats how i talk mine took a couple of times but worked if u would like to talk futher please j need some my situation

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...