Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
Twitter is one of the sites I connect with other parents online. Through twitter I was invited to the product review place where in one of the groups I responded to a pitch seeking reviewers of a home chore system entitled, Mom, Can I Help Around the House?
I thought this sounded great for my high functioning son Nicholas who has been homeschooled for the Middle School grades. Nicholas has been doing some chores like cleaning the litter box, taking out the trash and mowing the lawn with the push mower, but I needed some guidance and order to get this more consistent over time. I also wanted to compare what other kids do for chores since we are somewhat isolated in the community and to gain insights on what is age and gender appropriate.
Mom, Can I Help Around the House? is “ A simple, step-by-step system for teaching your children life-long skills for pitching in and picking up.” The spiral notebook contains eleven chapters, a conclusion and appendix. Chapter two delves into the three learning styles – auditory, visual and kinesthetic. There is a chart for parents to identify the area their child(ren) fall into. Chapter three starts off with this paragraph that that rings so true to the autism community:
“ In order for your children to be responsible for family chores and to learn basic home organization and cleaning skills, they must have an environment in which they can learn and do their job effectively. By adapting the environment to give your child more opportunities to take part, you will be teaching them necessary skills and gaining valuable help to complete your own tasks in record time.”
A good reminder, “ Keep in mind that organization is a learned skill.” Also, “The most effective way to assure that your children develop organizational skills is to model the behavior you want them to learn.” This is to true as evidenced by my son Nicholas who still struggles with making a bed and hanging up shirts and jackets. I break these chores down into small tasks showing him how to do it and then using an example with other items already on a hanger and the other made up beds to see the finished result.
Within the spiral notebook, Mom, Can I Help Around the House? are many forms your family can fill out to put this system in place. There is a master home maintenance inventory checklist with over eighty common household tasks. The family enters the frequency, estimated time, responsible family member and any related notes. The sections are categorized the same as the small blue child’s binder. I am including a sample for each one.
My Bedroom - dust my room
Home Care – shake rugs outside
Laundry – sort & fold socks
Family Care – bring newspaper inside
Family Meals – wash dishes
Pet Care – clean up pet waste in yard
Yard & Outside Care – rake leaves
Vehicle Care – dust inside the car
Family Events & Miscellaneous – help unpack holiday decorations
The tabs for the blue binder are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Daily, Weekend and Occasional. Chapter seven lists the ten steps to starting your chore training program:
1. Choose a basic task
2. Verbally explain the task
3. Visually demonstrate the task
4. Show the child how to do the task together
5. Let the child physically try the task
6. Give child immediate feedback
7. Document the task
8. Delegate the task
10. Inspect the task
Chapter four has some great information – Make time for home maintenance – schedule it, consistent follow-up is an essential feature of your system, be patient during skills training as children need time to master new skills and praise effort and not just the result.
A lot of these tips are perfectly suited for the child, teen or young adult on the autism spectrum. We cannot assume or even wait for them to learn necessary life skills at school or therapy and need to work on these at home. School vacations and summers are good times to get the system working with due diligence.
Chapter five goes over the pre-planning activities like how long should it take for a specific chore, what is your vision for how you want things to be and what changes in appearance of your home will be observed? There is also a family mission statement form, a behavioral agreement template with a section for the child and parent. The skill & responsibility development chart is also listed here on two pages.
Chapter eight is money sense with lessons and forms to fill out – needs and wants and goals of an allowance. Chapter nine is success in discipline covering age appropriate techniques, time-out, family rules, grounding and withholding privileges. In Chapter ten reward options are explored with ideas for younger children, family day (home movie night, dinner at the park). Keeping the momentum going is chapter eleven, which discusses evaluating the program, observing improvements, making adjustments, following up activities, holding family meetings regularly, compliments, analyze the situation, lower your expectations, “ done is better than perfect”
To be honest at first the spiral notebook might be overwhelming for a parent that is already dealing with a child on the autism spectrum. I suggest going over chapters as time permits and to have your child look through their binder and remove the cards that would not be useful or suitable for them at this time. For example – Nicholas removed ones that mentioned basement, garage, dishwasher, dogs, driveway, bible study, highchair, downstairs or upstairs.
I decided to not start on vehicle care since we have the holidays coming and he helps with the setting up of the tree, decorating and packing up. When he turns fifteen next year that is a section we will start to utilize so he is ready when he needs to learn about driving and cover both. Nicholas did not want to utilize walk up or feed sibling and I thought ironing clothes is not something he needs to learn at this time – due to his fear of hot items from a burn incident at camp years ago. I have showed him how to iron a few weeks ago, but this is not a task that is done routinely in our home.
We took the cards not used at this time and placed in a baggie as suggested and went about placing the cards under daily, weekend or specific days of the week. There were even a few cards that were a bit confusing to him like - dust baseboards, clean appliance fronts, edge yard. I was not really sure what the yard one meant, but did take the opportunity to show him the baseboards. I will soon be teaching him how to clean the inside of the microwave, as well as wash windows.
Nicholas has been utilizing cards like - put away groceries and helping to carry them in, get the mail, sort & fold socks, dust away cobwebs. Making the bed is still a work in progress – recently I told him to make the bed and he stripped it. This seems to work easier for him for the present. The cards are lined on the front and blank for the back.
Because Matthew smacks the walls, which leaves holes in them we will be fixing those up. A behaviorist at a workshop I am attending suggested having Matthew be part of the fixing of the wall, so if teaching Nicholas goes well I will attempt to have Matthew assist in this task as well. Matthew organizes the newspaper after I bring it in each morning and also puts away the diapering supplies, gathers his backpack and lunch bag and puts his dirty clothes in the appropriate hamper. I am also going to teach Nicholas how to paint the walls. There are some blank cards that will be utilized for these chores and for Nicholas to go fill up water bottles from the machine around the corner.
I feel this is a wonderful visual system that is well organized and thought out. The planning is based on a study the author did of over 350 Moms. There are lots of quotes and guidelines to help you along in the chapters, “Congratulations!! Your family’s master home maintenance inventory should now be completed. You now have a well thought-out home maintenance plan for your family! It’s time for a well-deserved break! You’ve earned it!” Nicholas likes this because he is learning new skills and he feels like he has achieved something and gets to see the results firsthand of his new accomplishments.
The author Janet Nusbaum is a professional organizer who with the help of her two daughters who were 5 (ADHD) and 3 at the time developed this system to provide structure and consistency for her own children. For families with more than one child you can order additional chore binders for about $15.00. The system sells for $34.97 or the digital version at $29.97. The site takes Paypal and ships internationally. This is available in English only.