Fact sheet: information on self care skills for children with Autism or Asperger's syndrome


Children with autism, Asperger's syndrome or similar disorders will encounter delays in learning life skills such as how to dress, use a tooth brush, bathe and dry themselves, and brush their hair. The teaching of these life skills usually needs to be done in a different way to suit the communication issues that arise with the Autism Spectrum Disorders.


It is important not to try and push a child into learning these skills before they are ready to tackle them. On the other hand, this should not be left too late as the child will simply drop further behind other children in terms of development. Experienced autism therapists can help with assessment of your child and determining when they are ready to begin learning certain tasks.


If you can't afford or access therapists

Break the self-care skill into its smallest steps. Use the guidelines in this article to teach your child this first step and see if your child can master this successfully. Remember to make learning fun, reward their successes, and don't let frustration or disappointment show. Reward your child for mastering each step and attempt the next step as your child shows readiness to do so. Click here to read the Budget Intervention Program fact sheet.


Techniques to assist in learning self-care skills

Visual aids

Remember kids on the autism spectrum usually learn better with both visual and verbal information. Try very simple illustrations using stick figures, and show the step-by-step actions. While we take getting dressed for granted, putting a shirt on is actually a long sequence of complicated movements for any young child. Break the process into into its smallest components and illustrate each one. For example, step-by-step illustrations for putting on shoes, brushing teeth and toileting can be stuck to the relevant wall for your child to follow. You can tap each picture to prompt your child on each step.


Social stories

Try using these illustrations in a social story, a powerful technique for learning new skills. Social stories are an excellent way to introduce the concept of a new skill, especially when a child dislikes disruption to routines.


Applied Behavior Analysis

One of the most effective interventions for autistic disorders is Applied Behavior Analysis. It uses a simple ABC model for learning new behaviors:

• Antecedent - a request by the parent or therapist

• Behavior - the child's response (or lack of response) to the request

• Consequence - what happens as a result of the behavior ie. praise for success.


First, the skill to be learned is broken down into the smallest units for easy learning. For example, a child learning to brush teeth independently may start with learning to unscrew the toothpaste cap. Once the child has learned this, the next step may be squeezing the tube, and so on.


Prompts are assistance to encourage the desired response from the child. The aim is to use the least intrusive prompt possible that will still lead to the desired response. Prompts can include:

• Verbal cues ie. "Put your shoes on, Bobby"

• Visual cues ie. pointing at the shoes

• Tapping each picture on an illustrated step-by-step chart

• Physical guidance ie. moving the child's hands to pick up the shoe

• Demonstration ie. putting a shoe on your own foot.

The overall goal is for a child to eventually not need prompts. This is why the least intrusive prompts are used, so the child does not become overly dependent on them when learning a new behavior or skill. Prompts are gradually faded out as then new behavior is learned. Learning to unscrew the toothpaste lid may start with physically guiding the child's hands, to pointing at the toothpaste, then just a verbal request.

The consequence is how the parent or therapist reacts to the child's behavior. Reinforcement is a very important part of changing behaviors, as we all behave in certain ways to obtain desirable consequences. Reinforcement can be positive (verbal praise or a favorite activity) or negative (an emphatic 'no').


Tips on physical guidance or 'shaping'

When a verbal prompt is not sufficient, you may need to shape your child's response by physically guiding their hands. Children with autism or Asperger's syndrome frequently disliked being touched. A verbal warning can help ie. "Bobby, I will help you put the shoe on". Remember a firm touch is often preferred to a light touch due to sensory problems. It help to do this from behind the child as they are more able to concentrate on task and not be distracted visually by your body. Where possible, don't use your hands OVER the child's hands. If the child can see their hands clearly going through the correct motions, they are less inclined to become dependent by watching your hands.


Click to shut this Autism information on dressing skills

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This autism fact sheet is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation. It is derivative of an autism-related articles at http://en.wikipedia.org

Children with Autism, Asperger's syndrome or similar disorders will encounter delays in learning life skills such as dressing themselves