Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Autism Sweeps

Jennifer Byde Myers

I get a note each afternoon from my son’s teacher. She emails me and let's me know what Jack did that day, any struggles he had, and provides information about what’s happening in the classroom, and around the school. It's efficient, an easy way for me to catch up on what he's doing in school, and a great way for each side of the equation to have context for conversation with Jack. 

When we go out to dinner at Jack's favorite restaurant, I write his teacher, then she and the aides can ask him questions about what he did the night before. It's also great that the email goes to both my husband and me. So many times in the past I would read Jack’s little school journal, or talk to the teacher when I picked up Jack from school, and that information would never make it all the way back to my husband. It is fantastic for my two favorite guys to have something to ‘talk’ about.

There is the usual update about OT and PT, and how well he walked on their social outing. I love hearing about his art projects, because art isn’t something he likes to do at home, and I've never been a big fan of messy paint projects. And while I know that they have a yoga class every week, I know that they adapt a lot of the moves for him because he doesn’t really like to sit still, and doesn’t like his body being manipulated in any way. But I’ve seen him stretch out across the lawn, so I know that some of those moves are probably familiar to his body with those hypermobile limbs. These are all things that he really only does at school, but I know we could do them at home if we wanted to.

But the thing I can’t get over, is that lately I’ve been reading that he “did chores at the end if the day.” Chores? Yes, chores. At school he clears his plate after snack. He wipes down the table. He pushes in his chair. Of course he's doing all of this with help, physical prompts, vocal prompts, and more commonly hand-over-hand-- but he is still doing chores. He never does any of that at our house.

This chores thing has actually come up recently, with my daughter noticing that she is held to a different standard when it comes to cleaning up her messes, and participating in the daily maintenance routines of our house. She hasn’t exactly complained, okay, maybe she has, but she knows that Jack doesn’t have any chores at home. On my best day of parenting, I would create one standard, then adapt that to help Jack meet that standard too.

So now I’m thinking, well why doesn’t he do chores? Shouldn’t he be doing the same things at school and home, so we can reinforce learning? It’s not the first time that he has been capable of a skill in one location but not another. For consistency, I believe he should have benchmarks and milestones that are similar to those that are set for him at school, and as he learns in one environment we should see the behavior both at school and at home. This transfer of skills can take time, and I’m aware that Jack is on his own schedule of development. 

I have tried a few times to help Jack carry his plate to the sink after dinner at home, but with no success. He turns into a pile of boneless chuckles, melting to the floor.--sweeping brings on skipping through the dust piles.

But perhaps, couldn't there be another thing at play here? Maybe this isn’t entirely about skills. Perhaps he just doesn’t want to do chores at all, because what 12-year old really wants to clean up anything? ever?

A version of this essay was previously published on