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“Hallelujah! My Son Cleaned His Room”

Use these tips to nudge your child with autism spectrum disorder into responsibility and independence.

My son is on the autism spectrum and motivating him to do anything outside his “personal fun list” sometimes feels impossible. Pushing too hard often leads to anger and arguing. Foisting full responsibility on to him is still a dream. But that doesn’t mean it’s not getting closer to reality every day, through a dozen small steps taken in the right direction. Here is how we are inching our way toward independence.

Make It Fun: Right, how do you make cleaning a messy bedroom fun? Start off small with making the bed. Have timed races to see who can do it faster. Try using only your right hand or find out how many times you can sing the alphabet before finishing. Move to the next level with cleaning off nightstands or light dusting. Make organizing fun with colorful bins or a label maker.

When you’re ready to move on to the rest of the house, make a list of to-do items and let him pick a few. I’ve actually put my son in the bathtub in his swimsuit with soap and a sponge to clean the tub as he plays. If you like music, turn up the volume and dance with your broom. These are all ways to show your child that even some of our everyday jobs can be fun.

[Self Test: Is My Child On the Autism Spectrum?]

Make It Mean Something: Try not to push too hard too soon. Taking on responsibility is a part of maturity. Kids with ASD mature at a slower rate than do their peers, so it’s critical to talk with your child about how families work and how every member has a job to do. Every child can (and should) make a contribution.

Help your child feel a sense of pride in what they accomplish — even the smallest task. Things like clearing the table after dinner or sweeping off the front porch can be a really big help. Steer clear of the idea of “obligation” and focus instead on the benefits of helping out. This will help your child learn firsthand what it means to be a part of a community and feel the reward of contributing. Be patient, it won’t happen all at once. My son still has trouble with the idea of doing a chore when no tangible reward is waiting for him on the other end. It’s a work in progress.

Make it Real: Give your child an idea of why cleaning is important. A mess makes it tough to find things. Dust can cause allergies. A dirty bathroom stinks. Explain what germs are and sickness follows. Since my son is older, we talk about what life will be like when he has his own place, his own laundry to do, and his own refrigerator to clean out.

Once your child’s bedroom is clean and organized, talk about how nice it is to have everything in its place and how much easier tidying up becomes if he keeps it that way. We want our children with ASD to become adults with a sense of pride in their abilities to take care of themselves. Putting it all in a real-life context, makes it easier to understand.

[Free Download: 10 Ways to Get Organized This Weekend]