Nurturing Independence In Autism
As a parent, I can attest to the fact that creating and nurturing independence in my children with autism is both very relieving, and a little scary. It can be hard to let go of control, and to work through all the step by step processes to help someone on the spectrum learn to do tasks, daily activities, and take care of even a portion of their own schedule. At the same time, nurturing independence in our children with ASD can be very rewarding for both parent and child, and ultimately lead to a richer life for both.
Build in a sense of choice at an early age
One of the first things that I see happen to people who are diagnosed with autism is their ability to choose for themselves, or say no, gets taken away. Making choices and being allowed to refuse things is an important life skill.
- Start small with two choices on a board: “Would you like an apple or banana for snack?”
- You can also start with a non-preferred activity followed by the choice of a preferred one. For example, first we do math, then you can (let the child choose between 2 or 3 things they like to do). This teaches the child they can do something they don’t like and survive and delays gratification, all part of life.
Use visuals for scheduling
Schedules can be done for the day or within an activity. If a child feels anxious seeing the whole day’s plan, break it down to morning, afternoon and evening. When scheduling, think about teaching flexibility and how to cope with something unpredictable. Put the word “surprise” in one time block. Teaching flexibility and unpredictability are important life skills because we all know the day doesn’t always go as planned and things can change at a moment’s notice in the workplace.
Find opportunities to create independence through volunteering
My children, Marc and Julia, explored the concept of working to earn things they wanted through volunteering at a local Farmer’s Market. Julia wanted a Playmobile Pool which was more expensive than the two DVD’s her brother wanted. I told Julia she had to work four shifts to earn the pool while Marc only had to work two shifts to get his first DVD. Both children understood this concept and realized you have to work more hours to get something that costs more – a valuable concept to grasp.
Find ways to build in independence when in the community
Both Marc and Julia practice checking out groceries at the self-serve checkout. Both can sign out their library items at self-serve check-out. I increased their job responsibility each week at the Farmer’s Market. For example Marc had to work with the manager putting out the pylons for the market stalls. Each week there was a different manager who had a different style from the one previously. Marc learned how to follow directions from different people. Julia had to bring the beverage orders to the vendors and take their money which helped her practice her memory and interpersonal skills.
Teaching the concept of time fosters independence
Whether using a Time Timer, sand timer, of the traditional clock, letting children see there is a beginning, end and time limit for activities is a good way to teach patience and transitioning. Marc and Julia are now at a stage of independence where I can tell them we will leave a place at a certain time, and they come and get me when it’s time to go. Marc has many activities built into times of the day such as meal times and snack times.
Independence is a step by step process.
Start small and build on successes. If you want your child to be able to get a drink of water on his own, start with him giving you the symbol for drink. The next step is for him to get his own cup. The last step is for him to fill it from the tap or pitcher. The tap can be trickier because the temperature and flow of the water have to be adjusted, but those skills can be taught in steps as well.
There will be little setbacks when teaching new skills, but independence is a step-by-step process. Build the foundation when the child is young and continue to build on those skills as they grow. My children are surprising me every week with new demonstrations of independence.
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