Summer is a time of fun in the sun and relaxing by the pool, but for children on the autism spectrum, summer can also be a time to focus on things that are more difficult during the school year. As the mother of a high-functioning autistic son, summer means teaching responsiblity. My son, Jackie, entered high school this past fall and his days were filled with homework and social issues. It became impossible to work on things like chores or personal hygiene. For other parents who have similar issues, why not use the freedom of summer to tackle issues such as responsibility for household tasks or personal independence and growth? Here are my top five tips for encouraging responsibility in ASD teens. You might be surprised at the progress that can be made in a few short months.
1 | Chores
Most ASD kids hate the idea of chores. They don’t want to be bothered with mundane things such as taking out the trash or cleaning their rooms. I have discovered that there is always some kind of motivator that can be used. For us it’s cold hard cash, but if you are a parent opposed to paying for the cooperation of daily chores, a point system can work as well. Positive reinforcement is always a good option. Make a chart that assigns points for each task. At the end of the week, the points can be added up and used for a reward. The rewards can be as simple as playing a game or a movie night at home. A prize bin can be made with small items that can be redeemed with the weekly points. Make sure to have one special chore that is a freebie. By assigning one task that earns no points your child can feel that they are contributing to the family in a special way.
2 | Grooming
Gaining independence can be difficult during the school year with all the stress of academics. Use the summertime to boost that self-esteem by encouraging better self-care. If your child has a difficult time keeping clean, using soap, or knowing how to really clean properly, bring out the kiddie pool. An ASD child can learn how to clean better by practicing in their own back yard. Put on the swimsuit, bring in the floaty toys, and practice lathering up that hair. Make sure to praise your child for the accomplishment and reinforce how good it feels to be clean. It may sound funny but the sensory overload of taking a bath or shower can really deter an ASD child from taking the time needed to clean. Make it fun and practice the routine an by fall they may be ready to get down to business in the bathroom.
3 | Money
Many ASD children have difficulty in learning the value of money. Now that there is more time and less stress, teach them about money to help create independence. Take your child grocery shopping with a limited amount of money. Have him find items on a list and then head to the register. The first time I did this with my son, he came to the register with five gallons of milk and a jar of peanut butter. We talked about what was necessary for a week and reevaluated what he had in the cart. If you start with $20 and go over budget, you might talk about how to get by with less and how to make better shopping choices. Use real money so that your child can count the change and make sure that they are paying the right amount for their groceries. If there is money left over, put it in a bank and add it to next week’s budget. With extra money on the next trip, they might decide to buy something special.
4 | Care of personal space
During the school year, I find myself constantly picking up after my son. I make his bed, bring him milk when he needs it, and tidy up his room daily. Summer is the time to foster a respect for personal space. The first time that I asked my son to make his bed he did it grudgingly, yet I was amazed at how well he could manage it and told him so. The next day, he surprised me by doing it on his own. Little by little we added in the organization of toy cars scattered his floor. We moved on to the stuffed animals and then to the desk. Make it fun by challenging for the tasks to be completed in a certain amount of time. Try to beat each day’s time while still maintaining the integrity of the work. Comment on how nice it is to be in a clean space. Encouraging your child to get their own beverages or snacks and clean up after is also a good way to promote independence. It’s important to keep it free from stress and to not push too hard. Take the small accomplishments and celebrate them.
5 |Make it tech-y
My son loves his computer and iPad. He also loves his phone but has a difficult time using it to actually call someone. It’s a social thing. He is nervous to talk on the phone or even to email someone. During the summer months, I encourage him to call his grandma or connect with friends via email and text. Many ASD children even have a difficult time communicating on computer devices. If your child has a close friend, encourage that friend to call or text. Find time every week to make a phone call to a relative. It may seem like a strange thing to work on but they will probably need these skills as adults. Since communication is difficult for ASD people in general, practicing with different modes such as text, telephone, and email can alleviate some of the anxiety. You can make it interesting by playing a game of gossip on the telephone. Contact several friends and family members to play. Have grandma call and say a phrase to pass on to the next person through a phone call or text. Continue passing on the phrase until the final person has been contacted and then see if the phrase is the same as it was in the beginning. Being creative at first will help make phone communication a less scary place. Summer provides the free time to tackle some of the issues that we face as parents of children on the autism spectrum. Make it fun and as stress-free as possible. I have found that more can be accomplished through a positive attitude. Don’t worry if you can’t get everything marked off the list. Celebrate all the awesome accomplishments as they come and the amazing children who achieve them.