Do it all on my own

We all do it… do ALL of it I mean. When you have a child with special needs or disabilities it is all to easy to fall into the habit of doing everything for them.

I do understand that there are many children for whom this is entirely necessary, and doing it all is not a choice. I suppose I am writing from a viewpoint of a child with capability but not much in the way of co-operation.

I find myself doing everything for her, as it is easier than the melt-down if I don’t. I tend to do most things for her neuro-typical brother too. Things that I realise they should and could be doing for themselves; taking their plates to the sink after a meal, putting their rubbish in the bin, hanging up their coats…

So here is a step by step guide to encouraging independent self-help skills and learning to back away;

1. Have the resolve to follow it through – there will be a hump to get over while your child resists the new routine.

2. Make sure the skill you are trying to teach is developmentally appropriate to your child. Don’t frustrate them with a task they can’t succeed at. Make a list of the skills your child can already do – and a few new ones to add. Keep the list visible to remind you what your child CAN do and so what not to help with. This is as much about you changing your ‘help’ habits too.

3. I found it really helpful to make little cards with velcro on the back and stick them up all over the house to remind me not to do the task for them and as a close-at-hand visual cue to remind them what their task is. There’s even one in the fridge to remind me and them, they can open their own yoghurt pot!

4. Work out the steps involved in the task – a task analysis if you like – and perhaps work backwards, so you do everything but the last piece of the task. This approach works for long tasks like cleaning teeth or for short things like putting their plate by the sink. If you have to support them to almost the end but then gradually fade that support you are allowing your child to succeed.

5. Keep it in context – always teach it in the place and time that your child will be needing the skill.

6. Get your child’s attention first – obvious but sometimes the hardest part of the task.

7. Keep your instructions, cues and physical prompts to a minimum, just give your child what they need to complete the task. Anything you do will eventually need to be faded.

8. Keep it positive, use reinforcement and praise; lot’s of ‘well-dones’, high fives and hugs! Carrot not stick works best in our house. Or if social praise is hard for your child, you could set up a sticker chart with a reward after say three stickers. This is especially good if your child can manage deferred reinforcement. Or try a more immediate reward like a raisin or chopped apricot every time they attempt the task you have set them.

9. See it through, stay neutral, always end each task with some effort coming from your child, however small. Reinforce their effort. Gradually expect more from them with each task and reward the increased effort. Know what they are capable of and aim higher and higher.

10. Don’t be surprised if it takes a long time – we all know our children need time and lots of practice to learn new things. The other thing is, often they need to keep using a skill or they will loose it – maintenance is crucial. Be consistent and patient, even though I know it’s tempting to just do it for them!

11. Perhaps read a favourite book about doing things for themselves. Charlie & Lola’s – ‘I can do everything that’s anything all on my own’ is a hit.

It’s early days but we’re giving it our best shot – let me know how you get on in your house…