|Self Help Skills for Autistic Children
Parental involvement is vital for the success of learning new skills. Parents work with teachers and
therapists to identify the behaviors to be changed and the skills to be taught. Recognizing that parents are the
child's earliest teachers, more programs are beginning to train parents to continue the therapy at home.
As soon as a child's disability has been identified, instruction should begin. Valuable programs will teach
early communication and social interaction skills. Parents can help their child use the skills or behaviors
learned at school when they are at home.
All through your child's school years, you will want to be an active participant in his or her education
program. Teamwork between parents and educators is essential to your child's progress. Because of the
range and combination of behaviors which may be present in a child with autism, no single approach is
effective with all individuals who have the disorder. Children with autism can perform the following with
some guidance and intervention.
• Self-help skills such as grooming and toileting
• Communication skills, either verbally or through enhanced systems
• Discovering age-appropriate recreational interests
• Developing, appropriate behavior at home and in the community
Toileting - When toileting a child with autism parents should insist the child use the bathroom every 30
minutes to a 1 hour and set a timer. Use a kitchen timer to go off every hour to begin with. When the timer
goes off again, tell him/her: “Time to go to the bathroom” and follow a bathroom schedule. Increase the
amount of time between setting the timer as your child remains dry for longer periods of time. Provide your
child with a lot of liquids (water, juice, etc.) to promote the urge to go to the bathroom. Repetitive behaviors
and routine is what children with autism understand so parents must be persistent when adding toileting to
their daily activities. Once the child has established a schedule of using the toilet repetitively the idea of using
the potty will be achieved. Do not give liquids before bedtime.
Eating - Children need to be exposed to foods multiple times before they eat it and some times parents fall
into the habit of not placing a previously rejected food item on the child’s plate. Continue to offer the
rejected foods it’s important. Children can’t learn about food if it is not provided. Research shows that
people form their eating habits early in life. Just because a child is growing normally does not necessarily
mean their diets are providing adequate amounts of many vitamins and minerals. For example, fruits and
vegetables are often high in vitamins A and C, but low in iron, whereas meat and some fortified grains are
high in iron. When children avoid whole food groups, they risk becoming deficient in several vitamins and
minerals. A supplement can correct the deficiency, but some of the many health benefits seen from getting
adequate nutrients in foods are not seen when taking supplements.
Feeding - Encourage your child to feed himself/herself by helping with your hand over his/her hand as you
scoop. Start easing your grip until your child is scooping all by himself/herself. Let your child practice
feeding him/her. Begin with the spoon and things that will not slide off (pudding, pureed fruits, and mashed
potatoes). Try to do it without spilling. Let him/her practice giving a bite to you or to a doll/stuffed animal.
Move on to things that might spill more easily such as pieces of fruit.
Drinking - Practice drinking from a straw and sip-cup. Bottles do not help with language development, so
move to cups, as soon as your child can drink from them. Put small amounts of liquid in the cup to start.
Use a small cup. Move to more liquid and a cup with no lid, when you feel your child is ready. Get him/her
to hold the cup with two hands.
Brushing Teeth – Many children with autism hate brushing their teeth. Perhaps oral sensitivities may be the
reason. First parents must make this part of their everyday routine. If the child refuses to brush alone
parents must brush for the child. When teaching the child to brush their teeth parents should help by taking
the following steps until this task is accomplished.
• Turn on the water.
• Put water on toothbrush.
• Put a little toothpaste on the toothbrush.
• Brush teeth by moving brush up and down.
• Spit the toothpaste into the sink.
• Turn off water.
A battery operated toothbrush that vibrates may interest the child more than character toothbrushes. Make
brushing fun with flavored toothpaste or make up a brushing teeth song.
Dressing – Children with autism insist on wearing the same outfit everyday like a uniform. Many children
with autism protest when having to dress in the morning for school our family outings. When purchasing
clothes buy items that will interest the child and call their attention. Let your child help in getting dressed. If
he/she cannot put on the shirt the right way, line up the tag and place the shirt part way over his/her head.
Let him/her pull it down. Help your child finish by putting his/her arm in the armhole. Let him/her push
/his/her arm all the way through by him/her. Teach your child that the label for pants and shirts goes in the
back. Let him/her practice by putting the clothes out for dolls or stuffed animals. Put the label side on the
floor. Lay the doll or stuffed animal with its back on the floor. Slide the clothes on.
Zippers - Teaching children with autism how to be independent is vital to their well being. While it’s
tempting to help someone that’s struggling to close a zipper, it’s a much greater to calmly teach the child
how to do it themselves. Take a jacket and put it on the table repeatedly and calmly show the child the two
edges of strips of fabric tape and together slip one of the two pieces into the other to be joined. Pull the
slider, up, move along the rows of teeth making a Y shape.
Buttons – Take a pair of pants or button down shirt and teach the child by slipping the button through a
fabric or thread loop, or by sliding the button through a reinforced slit called a buttonhole. Let your child
practice putting buttons through holes. Choose some clothing that has big buttons and big button holes. First
take buttons that are loose and slide them. Repetition is vital when learning a new skill.
Washing - If your child is having trouble using soap and washing him/her, let them practice by washing
your arms or a doll. Allow the child to put soap on you or the doll. Begin with your easiest faucet and work
up to the faucet that is most difficult to turn on or off. Run the water and say “Make sure you wipe off all
of the soap!” Dry your hands when finished. Practice drying off hands and arms. Feel to see if it is wet or
Tying Shoes – This is called the two loop method, developed by a mother of a child with autism. You start
with the usual "first knot” cross the laces, tuck the top lace under and pull. Most kids can do this without
much difficulty. Then, have them just do the another knot again --again cross the laces, tuck the top lace
under and pull again, but this time don't pull too tight. Leave about enough room to stick a finger through.
Then into this finger space, take the tip of the shoelace (the very end) and put it in the hole. It doesn't even
have to really go in the right spot. Push the tip through to form a "bunny ear". Next, take the other tip and
put it through the hole to form the second "bunny ear". The bunny ears do not need to be held or stabilized
while the child is doing this. Then pinch each bunny ear closed and pull. Make an X. Which one is on top?
Put it under. Pull. Not too tight! One tip. Two tip. Pinch. Pinch. Pull.
Bunny Ears Method - Crisscross the laces. Go under the bridge. And pull. Make the bunny ear (or loop).
Wrap the other lace around the bunny ear (or loop). Later wrap it around.
BUNNY EARS or TWO-LOOP TIE METHOD
Child picks up shoelaces
Child crosses laces, laying them across front of shoe (verbal prompt is “make an x”).
Child puts upper lace under the crossed laces through the cross created with the shoe in a toe-to-tongue
Child grasps a lace in each hand and pulls tight.
Child makes one loop.
Child makes second loop with the other shoelace.
Child crosses loops across the front of the shoe, maintaining grasp on the loops
Child puts upper loop under crossed laces through the triangle created with the shoe, in a toe-to-tongue
Child grasps a loop in each hand and pulls tight.
Now push the lace through (the new loop) here comes the other bunny ear (or loop)!
Grab the bunny ears and pull.
When first teaching a child shoelace tying, it may be easier for the child to initially practice with the shoes at
tabletop level rather than with the shoes on his/her feet.
Self Help Independence
Children on the autism spectrum often have poor fine motor skills. This makes some of the most basic self
help skills difficult for children to master. Parents must initiate self help skills because it’s unlikely the child
will dress independently or button their coat in anticipation of the praise. Self help skills are essential for
independence. Although it takes time to teach and master these skills, the value is enormous. If the child
feels more comfortable doing things themselves allow them. When the parents assist the child in self help
skills their only semi-independent. Continue to support them and praise them for their accomplishment until
they are successful. Use visual schedules and teach in simple steps until your child is able to complete tasks
without any intervention. An added benefit is that your child will learn independence and responsibility
which builds up their self esteem.