Many parents wonder if it is realistic to expect their child with autism to do chores in the home. It can be a challenge to select activities the child is able to do and also implement strategies to help them succeed. Like all of us, children with special needs develop more self-esteem and are happier if they feel needed and appreciated, so it is well worth the effort!

• Before making up a list of chores, think about what your child’s strengths are. What does he or she enjoy doing and do well? Make sure your expectations are realistic. Not all household chores will be appropriate for your child. It will greatly depend upon their abilities and interests. Talk to your child’s teachers or behavior therapists and ask them what they think may be appropriate tasks. Try to incorporate some of those things into the list as well as more challenging or novel tasks.

• Many children can learn to put away their toys, make the bed and make their lunch. They may also be able to help put away groceries, put dirty clothes in a hamper or put away clean clothes. Older children may be responsible for setting the table for mealtimes, loading the dishwasher, emptying trash cans or vacuuming. Start with small requests and increase the amount and complexity as their skills and confidence increases.

• A visual schedule should be incorporated into the routine as children with autism often benefit from visual supports. Whether you use photos, line drawings, clip art or words, a visual schedule will help your child identify a clear start and end to the list. Seeing what the expectations are can help them be more willing to complete the tasks. This also allows for choice-making and flexibility. For example, you may have 4 or 5 tasks you want your child to complete but you can let them choose in what order to complete them.

• Once you have established your routine, try to be consistent. If you put something on the schedule. try to stick to it. Also, do not add chores to the list once your child has completed what is expected. Although this may seem like a great opportunity to capitalize on the momentum you are building (“Wow, you did all five tasks, let’s do one more”), your child may perceive these unexpected or extra tasks to be a punishment. This may make him or her less likely to do chores in the future.

• The last step is to be sure to reinforce or reward your child when he or she successfully completes a task. Remember the Premack Principle or “Grandma’s Law,” and ask your child to complete a less preferred activity before rewarding him or her with a preferred activity. For example, “Put your plate in the sink, and then we can watch TV.” Or, “Hang up your jacket and put away your shoes, and then you can use the iPad.”

• Carefully select a reward that your child can earn only by completing his or her chores.If your child gets the reward without doing the chore, then he or she will be less likely to complete the chore when asked. Lastly, rewards must match the effort your child needs to put forth. As the quantity or difficulty of the tasks increase, the rewards should increase.

Helping children with ASD learn how to do simple chores around your home can increase their independence with daily living skills and give them expertise that may someday be useful in vocational experiences later in life. Simple rewards when they are younger such as stickers or tokens may help them understand the concept of an allowance and later, a wage or salary for work they complete as they get older. Obtaining these skills will also give them a sense of pride as they become contributing members of the family and later, their community.

To learn more about Northeast Arc’s Autism ABA Services, click here.