Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Teaching Chores

As parents, one of the most valuable things that we teach our children is how to do chores around the house. As a teacher, I’m surprised by the number of students who claim that they don’t know how to do basic tasks because they don’t have to do any chores around the house. Often they’ll tell me that they don’t have to do anything at home because their family has a cleaning woman who does most of the work for them. While having hired help clean the house is an asset to working women, I wonder how those children will learn to clean, do laundry, and other basic skills, should they ever have to do so. With Alex, teaching him household chores has been a chore in itself at times because his dyspraxia, or poor motor planning skills, combined with his weak fine motor skills makes many tasks more difficult for him. In addition, when he has been temperamental, we did not want to push him to do things that might heighten his frustration and lead to his hurling things in anger. Lately, however, he has been more willing and able to do some simple chores around the house, even though he still requires some supervision and instruction from us.

Generally, Ed is much better at teaching Alex how to do chores than I am. My perfectionist nature makes me want tasks done the way I want them done, but I know that Alex needs to learn how to do things his way. On the other hand, Ed’s more laid-back personality rolls better with objects being placed near their actual targets. For example, Ed taught Alex how to set the table this summer, and so long as the silverware was near the plates, it didn’t matter to him that the fork should be on the left. Of course, in the scheme of things, the placement of the table setting really didn’t matter since we weren’t throwing a formal dinner party. Moreover, the pride Alex took in setting the table all by himself was much more important than how the table looked once he was done. With repeated practice, Alex became much better at setting the table, and now he places everything pretty much where it belongs. Ed has also recently involved Alex with the weekly taking of the garbage and recycling bins to the curb. Patiently, Ed helps Alex move the bins from the garage to where they will be emptied by the street department. Watching Alex carry the recycling bins or pull the garbage can on wheels is heartwarming because he has a big smile on his face and seems proud to be doing this job. I doubt that most teenagers are pleased to be reminded that it’s time to take out the trash, yet Alex is not only willing but eager to do it for us. In addition, Ed has worked with Alex on how to vacuum; considering that Alex used to be terrified of the vacuum cleaner, this is a sign of great progress on his part. Perhaps the most helpful task Alex has learned recently is how to push the cart when grocery shopping. For someone who often appears oblivious to his surroundings, he does an excellent job of moving the cart smoothly and safely through the store aisles with minimal guidance. Moreover, like other tasks we’ve asked him to do, he seems to think this is fun, happily obliging us when we ask him to do it and smiling all the while he pushes the cart through the store.

In teaching Alex basic tasks, we always have to remember that he learns better by seeing than by hearing. When we give him verbal directions, he seems at times to have trouble processing what we want him to do. For instance, when I have him help me sort laundry to be washed, he has difficulty keeping track of which baskets are for darks, lights, and whites. I could tell him repeatedly which basket was which and identify each laundry item as dark, light, or white, but he gets confused about where to place them. Therefore, I have learned to point to the proper basket as I tell him what category the item he is holding belongs to, and he can sort the clothes and towels with the added visual cue. Similarly, he often has trouble putting things away because he doesn’t process the verbal directions well about where things belong. To illustrate, his sunglasses are kept in a basket on top of our kitchen microwave, and yet he puts them instead on the kitchen table or the counter—in the vicinity, but not in the actual spot. He can process they go on a surface in the kitchen, but he can’t put them in the exact spot without several cues. Similarly, putting away his toys, games, and books requires a step-by-step process to get them to their assigned places, such as: upstairs, in Alex’s room, in the closet, in the blue basket. If these steps are not specified for him one at a time, his belongings may wind up at the top of the stairs, on the floor of his room, or with the closet door open and the object sitting in front of the closet. I truly believe that he’s not trying to be difficult about putting away his things; he really can’t understand the process unless we divide it into more manageable parts. Nonetheless, we are proud of the progress he has made at learning to do chores around the house, and we’re even prouder that he does what work he can with such a positive attitude and a pride in himself for being able to do these tasks.

“So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why we are here!” Ecclesiastes 3:22


Big Daddy Autism said...

We recently started making our son do chores. Now he makes sure the doors are locked before bedtime and sometimes helps his mommy bring in the groceries. Where he places those groceries is always interesting. Occasionally they make it into the kitchen.

Pam Byrne said...

Hi Big Daddy,
I'm always amazed that despite how smart and perceptive our sons are, they sometimes miss the most obvious clues. At least they try! :)
Take care,