Yes, Your Child With Special Needs Can and Should Do Chores
Helping around the house is good for kids with disabilities
Words Billy Cuchens
Published Thrive Spring 2019 DFWThrive
Updated January 29, 2019
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My 7-year-old daughter Jasmine has been in a good mood all day. But as soon as I ask her to clean her room, her demeanor changes to panicked and frustrated. “I can’t do it,” she says. “It’s too hard to do it by myself.”

“You didn’t need anyone’s help making the mess,” I say.

She throws herself on the ground, crosses her arms and scowls at me. “It’s too much!”

It doesn’t matter if we ask Jasmine to throw away a tissue or lay sod—her frustration can skyrocket in a second. And if my wife, Laurie, and I don’t de-escalate fast, Jasmine’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory integration disorder can be triggered, and the entire family’s day can go downhill. It’s a constant process to involve our kids with special needs in maintaining the house. Structure is good for them, and so is the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to housekeeping and practice their executive functioning skills, but creating (and following up on) a chore plan can be complicated.

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Looking for a tool to help your family stay on top of chores? Our family uses Cozi to keep track of household tasks and organize our schedules. It’s user-friendly, with tabs for calendar, to-do list, shopping, etc. Each family member can sync their phone to the shared lists and appointments.

COZI // Free to download from iTunes and Google Play; cozi.com

THE PLAN

How do you determine which chores to delegate to your child? “Consider chores and tasks that are important to functioning as an adult,” says Erica R. Crawford, a local psychologist with a practice in Greenville. “For example, tying shoelaces is not critical because there are alternatives. But preparing their own meal or washing their own laundry is crucial to living independently.”

You may also need to start with single-step activities and work up to more complicated tasks, depending on your child’s abilities. “Start with a small step like unloading the silverware from the dishwasher, and build from there,” Crawford suggests.

For some families, the child’s buy-in can be an uphill battle. “Every kid can contribute to their household,” says Kimberly Hansley, program specialist at The Excel Center of Lewisville. “But … it can be a challenge to implement a plan. Sometimes these directions come best from someone other than a parent. It may take a mediator or a therapist to assist with the process.”

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH

“It’s our job as parents to follow up with our kids to make sure they completed their responsibilities,” says Allen mom Ashley H., whose sons have diagnosed anxiety disorders. “My main goal is that expectations like decluttering their bedroom and cleaning up after meals becomes habit, so I’m not constantly nagging them.”

She adds that it’s good to mix up the plan from time to time to keep it fresh. “I want to see their effort, so if they struggle [to keep it up] I might change up their routine so the habits don’t become stale,” she says.

Patience is crucial when your child misses something or doesn’t fully complete the chore. And if your child gets frustrated, you should resist the temptation to come to their rescue—letting them work through a challenge instills confidence (in our child and in us) that they are able to do things independently.

“I want to jump in and help him when he struggles,” admits Deanne Cox from Rowlett, whose 10-year-old son is on the autism spectrum. “But I’ve learned that when I give him a minute, he can often figure it out. And he’s so proud of himself after he’s completed the task.”

With our kids, Laurie and I find success through trial and error—for example, I’ve learned that Jasmine responds much better when I break down the task of cleaning her room.

“Can you clean up the shoes in your room?” I ask.

She flashes me a big smile. “OK!” She jumps up and starts racing around her room. She rushes out, waves a pair of shoes in front of me—“Daddy! I found my favorite flip-flops!”—and rushes back to her room. A few minutes later, she comes to me and says, “I’m done.”

“Good. Now put all your books on your bookshelf.”

Once she finishes her books, I tell her to clean up her toys and then put her clothes in her hamper. Within 10 minutes, her room is spotless. “I did it!” she shouts. “Are you proud of me, Daddy?”

“I sure am.”

Billy Cuchens is an adoptive father of four who lives in The Colony. ©ISTOCK