By: Jan Randall
When I was growing up my brothers, sister and I all had chores that we had to do around the house, as did all of our friends. Saturday morning was prime time, but chores weren’t just limited to then. My mom was a firm believer that helping out around the house was important because these were skills we needed to learn. We also were never paid to do chores because we were taught, that being part of a family means everyone helps because that is what family members do for one another. Mom also liked to remind us that she did not get paid to make our meals or wash our laundry!
Because of this it should have come as no surprise when my Mom asked me “what chores are you teaching Andrew?” He was about three and a half at the time and although he hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Autism, he had lost his language and eye contact. He also frequently had some serious meltdowns. In Mom’s eyes that was no excuse not to start teaching him how to help around the house. Still, when she asked me about chores, I think I may have laughed, incredulous at her question. I do though distinctly remember asking her what possible chore Andrew could do when he had so many challenges.
Mom suggested the simple task of “emptying the wastebaskets” as the perfect place to start, saying it easy enough for him to learn to do. Growing up “emptying the wastebaskets meant that you collected the wastebaskets from through the house and dumped them into the big basket in the kitchen. This chore got done when it was time to take the trash outside.
I still remember teaching Andrew to do this chore; telling him “time to empty the baskets” and guiding him, hand over hand to pick up the basket, bring it to the kitchen and dump it in the big basket, then to bring it back to the room where it belonged. We only had 4 baskets, one in each of the bedrooms, the bathroom and the living room, so it really didn’t take long for Andrew to learn the routine of emptying the wastebaskets.
For a long time this and setting the table were his only real chores. As he got older, I realized that it was important for him to learn as many household tasks as I could teach him. By the time he was 6 I had taught him how to use the dust pan and brush to finish up when I swept the floor, he could also strip his bed, before I would make it up clean, and he also helped me make his bed and mine.
As Andrew got into his pre-teen years I started asking my husband Bob to teach him how to rake leaves, and shovel snow. People who know my husband know he is VERY particular when it comes to doing any jobs, and so he balked at having to teach Andrew saying it was much faster and easier to do it himself, and besides it would take Andrew forever to learn how to do it the “right way”. I sympathized, to an extent. For some things it did take a lot of time and repetition to teach Andrew how to do household tasks, others though he picked up quickly.
Twenty five years of teaching Andrew so many different chores or what school would call activities of daily living has also taught me a lot. I learned that:
• Learning chores was good for Andrew cognitively, as well teaching him motor skills and providing him much needed sensory input. For example: sorting laundry by types, (heavy, delicate, towels) not just color, works on thinking skills, and using clothes pins for hanging laundry is great for fine motor. Carrying in groceries and carrying down baskets of dirty laundry provide great sensory input.
• Allison, Andrew’s sister saw that she wasn’t the only one who had to contribute to helping around the house. Our kids with Autism can take up so much of our time and energy that sometimes brothers and sister can feel resentful. If she had been alone in doing chores it could have become another reason to feel that way.
• Chores have also been important for Andrew’s self-esteem. He enjoys, and is proud being able to help and contribute to our family. I know he enjoys hearing thank you when he helps out.
• Andrew is also a HUGE help for Bob and I as it’s less for us to do when we get home from work. It is so nice to see him put the clean dishes away, or take the recyclables out, just because he sees that it needs to be done. Recently when Andrew broke his foot and needed surgery to repair it, he was laid up for weeks. Bob and I were constantly saying that we just couldn’t believe how much extra work we had to do because Andrew couldn’t do anything while he was recovering.
• Having things he can do by himself has also been a terrific way to keep him busy. When Andrew is bored he will look for things to do around the house.
• Andrew has skills that, he can take into the workplace. Currently he comes into Community Autism Resources weekly to take care of all of our trash, a job none of us at the office like to do, but Andrew loves it. He also has his own small side shredding businesses, learned from shredding documents.
As an adult Andrew does just about as much work around the house as his father and I do and I am always looking for new things for him to learn like learning how to open and close the sky lights. This past winter Bob finally relented and let Andrew help with the shoveling. Even though he isn’t perfect, he WILL learn. We are also considering getting Andrew a cat for this year for his birthday. We realized that Andrew has the skills to learn how to take care of a cat on his own, including cleaning the litter-box!
I’m grateful that all those years ago my Mom asked me that important question. Like all good Moms she gave me a push in the right direction, which has greatly benefited Andrew and our family. And as we all know, Mom knows best!