For some parents, watching their child become more independent can be daunting, while for others, it couldn’t happen soon enough. For parents of a child with autism, it is a luxury that doesn’t come easily.
With a typical child, parents put in the first few hard years of changing nappies, feeding their child, helping them learn to walk and talk and dress themselves. As they grow up, it starts to get easier! Their child begins to manage their own bathroom habits, they can dress themselves, they can feed themselves and even bath themselves.
But for a parent of a child with autism, those early years of really looking after your child’s basic self-care needs can go on and on. It can even stretch throughout childhood and into adulthood if we don’t intervene effectively. It is incredibly important for a parent of a child with autism to look in to the future and ask, “do I want to be dressing and spoon feeding my 12 year old?” “Do I want to be changing the nappy of my 16 year old?”
When we look at independence skills this way, it brings back in to focus just how important it is to teach these skills early in the child’s life.
So, how do we teach independence skills?
At AEIOU Foundation, independence skills are paramount in a child’s early intervention. We teach independence right throughout the child’s day. In the area of mealtimes alone, we might be looking at the child being able to self-feed, use cutlery, open their own lunchbox, packets and containers, pack up after themselves, eat a healthy variety of food and ask for help when they need it. On top of this, there is toileting, dressing and other self-care tasks such as handwashing, tooth brushing and hair care to consider.
The strategies we use to teach independence will depend on the skill the child is learning and what the child is already able to do. We might break the task down in to smaller steps or have the child just do the first or the last step. We will use prompting to facilitate the child to be able to do the task with their own hands and bodies and will use reinforcement to keep them motivated and show them they are doing right! It is important that independence skills are worked on at home as well as at AEIOU to ensure consistent expectations for your child, to give them more practice and to confirm they can use their skills outside of AEIOU. Overall, the key is always consistency and persistence!
It can be overwhelming to know where to start. Remember, you don’t have to work on everything all at once; this is a sure fire way to set yourself up for failure.
Choose your highest priority and work on that one skill until it is achieved.
Remember, it won’t always be easy. Teaching your child to put on their shoes can take substantially longer than just doing it for them. But if you always do it for your child, they’ll never learn to do it for themselves and they’ll always be dependent on you. This dependence really limits a child’s future – whether they can go to school, be independent in the community and even live on their own one day.
To learn more about helping your child to develop their independence, please come along to our parent workshop on Independence being held at your centre shortly. Parent workshops are free and open to all current families as well as those who are on the waitlist. Find out more at: http://aeiou.org.au/workshops.
About the author
Meg Russell is a Program Coordinator and Senior Occupational Therapist at AEIOU Foundation. Meg is passionate about working with children with autism and their families to develop life-long independence skills. Meg holds a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy and a Masters in Autism Studies.
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