Q: “I’m wondering how to help my daughter with organising daily chores. I don’t like the idea of a rigid list eg. Monday put washing in the machine etc. My daughter has been asking for some time now for a list as a result of me being frustrated that I don’t get enough help. My main concern though isn’t about me feeling like ‘Cinderella’ I really want to support her for the future because I am worried that she may not cope well with independent living. I’ve been struggling to write a list because I don’t want to come across as dictatorial. If anyone has any ideas for how I can best support her, I would be very grateful.”
A: If your child is telling you what will help them, listen. Your child has asked for a list, so give them a list. This is your child telling you exactly what you can do to help!
The most important thing about parenting is to listen to your children telling you what they need… and provide it for them. If your child is explicitly stating that a list would help them do chores, they actually do mean to make an actual, physical list.
I would list the chores that need to be performed and the timeframe they should be done within, and the order of importance. Make sure that these tasks are all reasonable for your child’s age and capabilities, though! Asking a toddler to vaccuum isn’t reasonable and asking a disabled person to do laundry might not be feasible.
A list of chores can be really helpful for an autistic person people who need explicit instructions for tasks or have difficulty remembering things. Many autistic people struggle with non-direct instructions, such as “can you please do the dishes?” which may read as optional or a question of capability; or “I need some help around here” that has no specific and distinct directions.
- Do not phrase something as a question if it is an expectation. If there is no option to say no, and the child is required to perform the task, don’t ask them to do it. Tell them to do it.
- Do not use language like “I’d like” or “I want” because that can often read as optional as well.
- Don’t raise your voice or express your frustration. We know it’s sometimes infuriating when people don’t “pull their weight” so to speak, but yelling at an autistic person because they don’t do chores will only backfire.
- Make sure there is no uncertainty about the task. Don’t say “clean the living room”- say instead “In the living room: pick up the books/toys and put them away and sweep the floor. In the kitchen, wash the dishes and put them away.” That type of thing. Say exactly what you mean.
Now, do address the portion of this question wherein you express concern about your child’s ability to live independently- your child is already showing signs of this capability! By telling you how you can help them, they are self-advocating, which is arguably the most important skill for an autistic person to learn before living on their own!
The best way to help your child be successful independently is by teaching them how to do what they cannot do. For example, an autistic person given a list of directions for how to complete a task will help them learn to do the task in the future. Let’s say you want your child to do two loads of laundry. Specify what can go in each load (maybe you want one load of clothes and one of towels) and how to wash them (clothes on delicate, towels on regular, perhaps) and dry them (clothes on low, separate out bras and hang dry those, towels on high, perhaps). Having a written set of directions can help them learn and remember how to wash those things! And there’s no reason they can’t some day have a list on the wall of how to do chores.
Independent living isn’t only about knowing how to do things for yourself, the entire process of transitioning from living with others to living on your own is a learning experience. Let your child learn and grow!
Some other suggestions from members in our group:
- ‘”It’s not dictatorial if the person asks for it. To make it more democratic, you could also build the list together, if she is willing, and it can be open to modifications if she has troubles with it. Also invite her to talk about her needs, sometimes she may need to recharge and chores would get in the way, for example.”
- “When I was a child my mother provided a list of expectations and it made my life so much easier. We need expectations spelt out thoroughly.”
- ” I agree, she’s asking for a perfectly reasonable accommodation so I say make a list/chart. Also, by speaking up about something that would help, she’s showing evidence of self-advocacy skills. Those will become more and more important as she gets older.”
- “I tried forever when I was a kid to get my mom to make a list for me to help her and she just wouldn’t do it. To this day (I’m 37 and don’t even live in the same state anymore) I have to hear about she doesn’t get any help around the house lol… Now I make lists for myself when I need to clean my apartment so that I can break it down for myself and not get overwhelmed.”
- “Having lists makes it easier to live on my own. I make to do lists everyday and it helps so much.”
- “Oh my gosh, that last point really speaks to me… my mom used to say ‘clean the kitchen’ when all she meant was ‘wash the dishes.’ That was completely overwhelming to little kid me! Did she expect me to scrub the floors? Defrost the fridge? Fix the caulk on the backsplash? I could never be sure and so what seemed like a very simple ask to her always ended up with a meltdown on my end.”
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