Parents of adolescents and older children with special needs often struggle to find the ways to keep their child occupied during the entire day especially because this child’s stamina and energy levels are like neuro-typical individuals of his age, but the academic expectations, as well as the opportunities for social interactions may be far lower than neuro-typical peers. This means that the adolescent/ adult with special needs may have a lot more ‘free time’ on his/her hands where the person is unoccupied and often bored. To add to this, a lot many may not have the communication skills to express boredom appropriately and may display inappropriate behaviors to communicate boredom or even to keep themselves occupied. Engaging children in household chores from a very young age helps not only to teach independence but is also a functional and creative way of keeping the child engaged as he grows older as well as a foundation to build vocational skills. It is also a wonderful way to foster self-esteem, where the child/ individual realizes that like other family members, he, too, has certain responsibilities and is contributing gainfully to the ecosystem of the family.
Key points to remember before introducing a chore and teaching it to independence are:
- Time: As is the case with teaching any skill to your child, start teaching a chore when the child is developmentally ready to learn. Break the task down into smaller steps and check which and how many of these steps your child can perform in other contexts. For example, before teaching the child to wear or take off his pants, one would need to ascertain that the child has the finger grip to hold the waist band and an ability to balance on one leg. Also, which chore would be functional? For example, teaching the child to lay the table would be done just before the meal times so that the child sees the functionality and the outcome of the task he is learning.
- Choice of activity: during the initial stages, the child may not understand why he is been made to participate in a particular chore or the reason to engage in some activity. It is important to start at the child’s level keeping in mind his/her interests.
Respecting child’s specific sensitivities, too, is important if one wants the child to participate willingly. For example, if the child likes water play but dislikes dirt, then mopping the floor or a chore which involves water, would be a good activity to start with but the child might resist washing dinner plates or his bathroom. These tasks can be introduced later, once the child learns the concept of rewards and tokens for his contribution.
- Consistency: especially when you are going to stop performing a chore which you were doing for the child for a long time, it is important that you maintain consistency in your demands. Not giving into child’s tantrum and ignoring a slightly sloppy performance at least during the initial stages is very important.
- Role modelling: The child with special needs, too, needs role model to sustain his efforts. If all the members of the house are contributing in their own ways in some daily chores, then it acts as a good motivator for this child. If everyone is dependent on the domestic help and it is only this child who is expected to engage in chores, then it would be a challenge to sustain motivation to participate.
- Reinforcement: In tasks where the gain is not evident to the child, or is not a direct consequence to performing the task, it is vital to provide reinforcement and reward immediately. For example, child may not recognize the need to fold and put away the clothes in the cupboard and this would call for a visible reward for the child to sustain efforts whereas if the child enjoys eating a sandwich and you are teaching him to make a sandwich that he gets to eat, he may see the need to learn the task.
Reinforcement/ reward should not be substituted by a bribe. Bribery occurs under threat. It happens quickly, when all you want is to change your child’s behavior on the spot, so you offer him something that you had no previous intention of offering and therefore it is always a form of negotiation which puts the child in the driver’s seat. Remember that when you resort to bribery to control your child’s behavior, the price that you wind up paying is actually a lot higher than it may seem in the moment. On the other hand, the effective use of rewards is quite different, because you are compensating your child for his good behavior, rather than being manipulated and extorted. In the next part of this discussion, we would discuss Chaining as a behavior modification technique and also list chores for different ages.
In the comment section below, please write down about your experience in regards to this discussion.