Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Practically Perfect in Every Way? Not!

When the children were younger, I lost every round of the "Well Begun Is Half-Done" game (otherwise titled "Let's Tidy up the Nursery"). We never had a nursery, and the kids' rooms never stayed tidy. David could destroy a room in one minute flat, searching for that one elusive Lego piece (he had several plastic bins of these). While listening to a read aloud, he would suddenly dart off to find the perfect costume, leaving a mess in his wake. Steve traveled a lot, and I was too tired to juggle everything. As much as she adored The Big Comfy Couch, Pamela never rose to the occasion of the ten-second tidy ("Who made this big mess?"). Nor could she point things into their proper place as the Banks kids did in Mary Poppins. Neither child of ours could ever find an element of fun in cleaning up.

Today, our house stays fairly neat. We moved into a house large enough to have a room or two that stay presentable and a large closet upstairs and outdoor sheds for boxes and junk. Steve stopped traveling so much, the children grew up, and their toys learned to stay put. David started keeping his room straight after he learned to read books to himself and outgrew Legos. Now, he is able to clean most anything in the house, especially when he's saving up money for a new gadget or a trip. Now that we are focusing on executive function, Pamela is starting to understand chores.

"First of all, I would like to make one thing quite clear . . . I never explain anything."
Fortunately for you, I am no Mary Poppins! However, I will leave explaining executive function to a another blog post.

Chores provide opportunities for us to work on our relationship while we do things that have to get done anyway. Because I seek dynamic situations that teach her brain how to monitor and filter (an RDI Stage 3 and above ability), I avoid schedules, to-do lists, reminders, rewards, etc. These compensations take the place of the executive function milestones I am trying to achieve. Ideally, I would like Pamela to learn exactly how to clean her bathroom in less than 30 minutes. However, if I friends will be over in twenty minutes, I would rather her appraise what needs to be cleaned, take only ten minutes in the bathroom, and spend the rest of the time tidying up her room. Context often changes our priorities and a job well-done can mean different things, depending on the situation.

Every day, I try to spend up to an hour working on different chores, focused on the RDI objective du jour. I pick different tasks like folding clothes, taking care of the pets and wild birds, baking, filling out paperwork, processing mail, etc. The other day we matched and rolled socks while I focused on giving Pamela opportunities to listen, process, think, and speak. I assessed that she was ready to take full responsibility for the sock box. She possessed a lot of knowledge: she recognized matches by color and by size, saw the difference between inside out and right side out, monitored their location, and accepted that socks might have no match. She had applied knowledge too: she rolled the matches she made. She turned inside-out socks right-side out. She picked up any socks that fell to the floor. She put the loners back in the sock pile and could even carry on a conversation while working, as you can see in the following video:

I plan to transfer responsibility for the sock box in two stages. First, we will work simultaneously: I will fold clothes while she works on her sock box. I will come up with different ways of appraising whether she should roll socks: "The sock box is full" or "Dad is running out of socks" or "I only added four socks to the box". That gives us the opportunity to work on our current RDI objective by having a conversation and gives her the opportunity to think about when she should fold socks. Once she understands when she needs to fold and willingly does it, then I will start keeping the sock box in her room and she can fold socks while she watches television.

It can be very frustrating that our children have a hard time with chores. It looks so easy. How hard can it be? Can they really be that lazy? How can they be so smart and so disorganized? When you find yourself asking those questions, it helps to remember that autism means that parts of the brain don't talk to each other very well. The boss of the brain has such a hard time managing the workers that what seems simple is really difficult. A friend forwarded a quote from Heather T. Forbes that puts it all into perspective:

Raising children is a process, not an outcome.

If you stay focused on the process (staying centered on the development of the relationship, staying in a place of love, and accepting your child's own organic process), each step of the journey will be more enjoyable and more rewarding.

If you stay focused on the outcome (worried about the future, staying rigid, and expecting an attainment of predetermined goals) you'll be parenting from a fear-based paradigm that will ultimately compromise the relationship with your child.


Penny said...

We're beginning to work on chores from this perspective, too, slowly. My kids are still in messy toy stage - that makes it challenging!

Jules said...

Thank you for posting this, Tammy. This is an area that I personally struggle with. I always feel so inadequate when I compare my almost, always messy home to the "Better Homes and Gardens" places my friends live in ;) I'm tempted to come up with my chore schedules every few months (They never last more than a week). No more! I'll learn to enjoy the process. Thanks!