HELP! My son with autism does chores poorly

Dear Sylvia,
We have been attempting to teach our son to do some household chores. He uses a picture schedule and after completing three tasks he gets a reward (usually a milkshake from McDonalds). The problem is that he comes home from school, rushes through the chores not doing a complete or very good job (example: he only washes one little spot on a window and then puts “wash living room windows” in the finished envelope). If I try to make him go back and finish he gets upset and angry and tends toward self-injurious behavior. Should I just let it go? –Frustrated in Franklin

Dear Frustrated,
It sounds like you guys have a really great system for planning and rewarding chores. I commend you for setting something like that up–it will serve you and your son well for a long time to come. It also sounds like MOST of the system is working really well, so do not be too discouraged. Here are a few things you might try to tighten up the system a little bit:
1. Add a beginning level to the system where your son ‘learns’ to do the chores (you might have to invent new ones while you introduce this). Take all the chores he does poorly out of the chores list. Start 2 chore boards, where one is full of chores he needs to ‘practice’ and one has chores that he is independent with.
2. Plan a procedure for teaching the ‘practice’ chores. You might consider using a Jig, or another method of visually structuring the task so that he completes it properly. For washing windows, you might put 3 washable marker stripes down the length of the window and teach him to wash all three areas (including the stripes). Then fade out the stripes.
3. Create a ‘check off’ list of the chores he is still learning. He can get a chore checked off the list when it has been inspected by you. Then that chore can get moved to the independent list. If he starts backsliding, you can always move it back to the ‘practice’ chore board.
4. Start a routine using your picture schedule where he does one ‘practice’ chore each day with you, and you walk through the specific steps of that chore (using a schedule if you want). If there are chores he is independent with, he can do those too. The practice chore can be one of the chores he uses to earn his reward.
5. If he becomes angry with you for changing the routine, STICK TO YOUR GUNS! You won’t be doing him any favors by accepting a standard that nobody else in his future will accept. If you can explain the chores clearly, and reward him for doing them right, he will come around. See this handout on managing behavior for specific techniques for sticking to your guns 🙂
6. As always, you may have to explain this new chore system to your son in a visual format.

I really hope this helps! Please email or call me with any further questions. SYLVIA

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