Guest post by Jennifer Hock, Illumination Learning

I think every parent struggles at some point or another with teaching their children to complete chores successfully. How many times do we find ourselves reminding our children to get started on their chores? How many times do we walk into the room to see that the chore wasn’t even remotely done correctly? Couple this with the hurdles of a special needs child and it’s enough to make a parent question their ability to stay sane some days.

Identifying the problem

One of the first things to assess when teaching your special needs child some basic life skills is to thoughtfully discern where they are struggling. What is preventing them from completing their chores correctly?

Three of my sons have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. One of the major hurdles for them is not being able to remember what I asked them to do. They genuinely forget quickly, especially as the number of steps to complete the chore increases.

I found some picture frames at Ikea that would enable me to break down a chore into individual steps. I used these Tolsby frames so I could attach index cards via a loose leaf binder ring. Each individual index card had one step of the chore and my kids could flip each card over to the back of the pile after they completed that task.

This method helps the child not be overwhelmed by the number of steps in a task. In front of them, they have only one step to complete and then can move on to the next step by themselves without having to be prompted for what comes next.

Individualizing the tasks

This method is highly individualized based on the capability of the child and the needs of the parent. It can also be adapted at a later time to include more steps when the child is ready for more.

For example, when you’re wanting to teach them how to pick up their room, but your child is not able to clean the room to the level you’d like yet, give them three tasks to do:
1) Put all of your Legos in the green bucket.
2) Put all of your cars in the blue bucket.
3) Put all of your books in the white bucket.

The room isn’t going to be clean but you’ve picked a starting point and are looking to help your child successfully reach the goal you’ve set before them.

Later, when they have sufficiently mastered these three tasks, you can expand the steps:
1) Put all of your dirty clothes in your hamper.
2) Put all of your toys in their buckets.
3) Turn off your light when you leave the room.

The goal here is to have them successfully complete a doable number of tasks for their capabilities. As their ability to do more increases, so can the number of task cards, as well as the difficulty level. I’ve found that having my children complete a small number of specific tasks, when all other attempts have failed, has had long term success for us. If you find your child still struggling, it’s worth evaluating if you need to break down the tasks to even simpler steps.

This approach may not be the quickest way to teach a special needs child basic life skills, but the frustration level for both child and parent is substantially lowered. When the stress level goes down, then we have more patience to work with our child and help them learn to successfully take care of their basic life needs – because, after all, that’s a huge goal of ours.

About the Author

Jennifer Hock is a mom to six children. She and her husband adopted three boys with multiple special needs from foster care over a decade ago and have strived to find ways to help them overcome their struggles. You can find more posts from her at Illumination Learning at www.illumination-learning.com.

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