Archives for the month of: February, 2013

How To Teach Chores To Your Special Needs Child

  By Karen Wang

How to give chores to children with special needsI was chatting with another parent at the Friendship Circle recently, and I mentioned that my 10 year old son, who has autism and severe learning disabilities, does the dishes at our house.

“What?  He does chores?”

Yes, in fact, Louie also does the laundry without being asked.  And he vacuums his room.  And he puts away his own clothes, books and toys.  And he shovels snow.  He does everything with a big smile.

“How did you teach him to do all of that?”

Well, it took a really long time for him to learn.  We had to find the right motivation, and we had to break everything down into simple steps.  But somehow it clicked.  This is how the learning process unfolded for us.

Step #1: Start with Self Care

My husband and I started to make long-term plans for our son while he was still in preschool.  We realized that he was going to need extra help learning basic life skills.

We introduced self-care: brushing his own teeth, running a bath at the right temperature, washing his body.  We always made it a point to comment positively on his independence in this area, but we did not give him any other reward.

Step #2:  Experiment

with Sticker Charts

We tried sticker charts for doing tasks around the house.  The list of chores would have one or two self-care tasks, a household task that he had already mastered and a household task that he had not yet mastered.

Our son had absolutely no interest in these sticker charts for several years.  But we noticed that he liked to vacuum and switch electric items on and off.  We decided to let him vacuum as much as he wanted, and we even got him a Shark motorized sweeper, because it is lighter and quieter than a regular vacuum.

Step #3: Incorporate Privileges

Eventually, Louie started asking for extra privileges.  His most prized privilege was a weekend morning out with either me or my husband.

Those sticker charts suddenly became attractive.  His first successful job chart only had 2 jobs on it: read 20 minutes per day with Mom and unload the clean dishes from the dishwasher with Dad.  This involved re-organizing the kitchen so that all dishes were accessible to him.  We had to talk him through the unloading process and show him the correct place for every single item.

Step #4: Add one task at a time

Vacuuming - teaching chores to children with special needsWe added a new job to his chart as soon as he mastered the previous task.  We talked openly about how everyone in the family was benefiting from Louie’s assistance.

Every shelf in Louie’s closet was labeled, and every evening I gave him 10 items of his clothing to identify and place on the correct shelf.  The single most challenging task for Louie was to pick up 10 

toys or books off the floor and to put each item back in the correct place.  This required categorizing items out of context.

Step #5:  Work on new tasks together

Our weekend outings taught Louie the value of shared activities.  He noticed that my husband and I were finishing up the dishes after he unloaded the dishwasher, and he noticed the time spent doing laundry.

Louie decided that he wanted to be more involved, because it meant that he could spend more time with his parents.  This was a major turning point for him.  He started loading the dirty clothes in the washing machine, and I taught him how to measure the detergent and switch on the machine.  He loved setting and turning on the machine.

Step #6: Practice makes perfect!

Scaffolding is the art of putting supports in place so that a person can learn a new skill.  Louie needed plenty of scaffolding to learn how to load dirty dishes into the dishwasher.

He had to learn how to rinse, sort and arrange everything.  He spilled an awful amount of dirty dishwater on the kitchen floor and counters.  We often had to run the dishwasher twice to get everything clean.  But we responded positively and showed him the correct way to load.  Even the lightest, most gentle criticism was upsetting to him.

Step #7:  Remove the Scaffolding

We slowly removed the scaffolding from the daily chores and invited Louie to join us in whatever we were doing.

He doesn’t have a job chart anymore.  Louie loves to help me prepare meals: he prefers to set the oven for me, because pressing electronic buttons is such a delight.  He learned how to sort our dirty laundry into whites, colors and delicates.

Last weekend he wanted to watch his dad change the oil in the car.  We keep adding new tasks to his repertoire, and we make sure that the experience is social and lighthearted.  Louie has a long way to go in his developmental skills, but every day I kiss him and say, “Thank you for helping me today.”

Filed Under: Parenting Tagged With: 
About Karen
KarenKaren Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology “My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities”

30 Under 30: Amy Gravino.

Amy Gravino – Age 29amyheadshot3


Asperger’s Syndrome College Coach, Autism Advocate, Writer

Written by Lindsay Chapman, MA, BCBA, Assistant Director of ABA4U NJ

On the night we met Amy, she was radiant in a bright red party dress, and had a warm smile and welcoming eyes. Lisa immediately recognized Amy from class at Caldwell College, and with her gregarious and outgoing nature, within minutes Amy was telling Lisa and me about her Masters thesis, in which she taught men with Asperger’s how to appropriately ask for a date. I was not surprised to later find out that not only had Amy conquered college life, but that she had also addressed the United Nations as part of an Autism Speaks panel. There was not a shy bone in her body, and I immediately wanted to become her friend.

As a young girl in grade school, her peers were not as congenial. In fact, Amy cannot recall many pleasant interactions with girls her age. She was the victim of frequent bullying, and her peers failed to understand her social aberrations. Amy can still describe the pain that these experiences caused her in vivid detail:

“When you are a kid, you care more about what your peers think. I internalized everything they said about me and heard it in my own head all day long. I wanted to take my own life. I wanted to commit suicide.”

Amy solemnly recalls her own resiliency:

“One day, I just decided not to listen anymore to those voices in my head telling me that I couldn’t do certain things.”

And with that, she began confronting all of the tasks she was told she could not accomplish. She applied for college and lived on campus, where her social life blossomed.  Amy went on to become the first female with Asperger’s Syndrome to graduate with a Masters degree from the Applied Behavior Analysis program at Caldwell College. Since then, she has opened her own business, A.S.C.O.T Coaching, LLC, in which she coaches other students on the spectrum through the college process. She is also an autism advocate and serves on the board of several non-profit agencies as a voice for individuals on the spectrum, including the Board of Directors for the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership (GRASP), Standing Committees for Autism Speaks, and the Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation. Amy lives independently in an apartment in New Jersey.

As an advocate, one of Amy’s goals is to make others aware that individuals on the autism spectrum are not so different from their “neurotypical “peers. As we chatted like old friends, Amy described her current dating life, divulging:

“It’s not that I do not trust men, it’s that I do not trust my own judgment.”

To which I retorted, “Do you know how many of my girlfriends have made that exact statement to me over a glass of wine?!”

We laughed, and then Amy told me about one of her most recent projects, a book called, “The Naughty Autie.” In this book, she provides a firsthand perspective on what dating is like for individuals on the spectrum.

“People either think that we don’t have sexual feelings, or they are uncomfortable acknowledging that we do, so no one talks about it,” she relays. In one chapter, she describes in detail what it was like to lose her virginity: the sounds, the smells, and the tactile touches. Instead of ignoring and suppressing these feelings, Amy feels it is important to acknowledge them and teach appropriate behaviors.

Amy now speaks to college campuses regarding issues surrounding sex and safety for individuals on the autism spectrum. She is every bit the dauntless female, “heroine of her own life,” a la Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City. We could not be more proud of how she represents and inspires the people that she comes into contact with on a daily basis.

Amy’s goals for the future are to find a publisher for her book and to appear onEllen to promote awareness about life on the autism spectrum. We are fortunate to have met such an extraordinary young woman and look forward to hearing about how she succeeds her many new adventures in the future.

For more information visit:

Autism Speaks:



Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation:


Caldwell College:

How YOU could help a Special Needs Parent.

As the rates of #Autism continues to skyrocket, the likely hood of you knowing someone that is a special needs parent is growing as well. Maybe you already know someone with a special needs child. Perhaps, a friend or family member.In this article, I hope to give you some simple ways that you can help the special needs parent in your life. Knowing what to say or do can be daunting for someone that doesn’t have experience with special needs parenting. This is probably where many people, with the best of intentions, get scared off. Seeing what a special needs parent goes through can be a very overwhelming experience for anyone.

It may even seem so dire that one might feel that they have nothing to offer, that could possible be of any benefit. I hope to change that by sharing a few very simple, very basic ideas, that can provide much needed relief to a special needs parent and let them know that they aren’t alone.

So, you have a friend or loved one that is a special needs parent. Do you want to offer help or support but don’t know what you could possibly do? First of all, let me thank you for showing compassion, concern and love for the special needs parent in your life. Honestly, to a special needs parent, just knowing that someone cares is really important. In fact, it’s so important, that I don’t think it can be overstated.



If you have ever wanted to offer help to a special needs parent but maybe don’t know how, this article is for you. Perhaps their situation is so difficult, you don’t know how you could possibly help. There are some things you can do to help even if they don’t seem like much.

One of the toughest parts of being a special needs parent is the feeling of isolation.  Their child requires so much of their time, energy and undivided attention that they often times have little or no adult contact (aside from doctors and therapists). You could make plans to stop by for a visit. Many special needs parents will tell you that they would love to just talk to another adult. Please remember to call first as a surprise visit could just add to the stress by destabilizing or overstimulating their child.

Sometimes, by the end of the day, exhaustion is such that the thought of making dinner is simply to much. Perhaps you could also offer to bring dinner over so they have one less thing to worry about. It would be a very nice gesture and could really help take some of the load off their shoulders.Remember that their child may have special dietary or sensory needs so it would be a good idea to do some research by calling and asking what would be a good meal to prepare for them.

Things as simple as sending a card, email or text message, just to let them know you’re thinking about them could help them to find the strength to keep moving on a really bad day.

If you wanted, you could send them a gift card for groceries or maybe their favorite take-out. There is often times a tremendous financial burden associated with special needs parenting and maybe a gift card will help them provide groceries for their family, if things are tight that week.Think about making arrangements to go over and spend some time with their child (if that’s something that would work). Educating yourself about Autism of whatever else the parent is dealing with is important for something like this. Not only will educating yourself help you relate to their child, but knowing that you took the time to learn about their child’s condition would mean a great deal to any special needs parent.

As their child likely requires all their time and energy, every single day, things around the house and yard tend to take a back burner. You could help with lawn care or repairs to the house. Wash a sink load of dishes or fold the laundry.

The list of possibilities is endless really.

The most critical thing you will be doing, is showing them that they are not alone. Sometimes just knowing that their are people who love and support you, standing in your corner, can mean more then you can possibly imagine.

Please remember that you don’t have to understand anything about Autism in order to show love, compassion and support to those touched by it.

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