I still remember when my boys were all tiny teaching them basic life skills before we even knew they had autism. This meant skills like learning to feed themselves. How much easier it was spooning food into their open, bird- like mouths (in our case with twins, the method was one bowl and one spoon to share, spooning into alternate mouths). But they had to acquire the ability to feed themselves which meant months of mess, covering themselves and everything around them in pureed gloop.
Then there was the potty training. Enough said about a year of accidents and poo smearing but again it had to be done if they were to get out of nappies.
For all children, whether they have autism or not, learning new skills can be hard. Hard for the parents that is. You have to go through the process however painful but it’s always worth it in the end and from then onwards life is easier. So short term pain for long term gain.
With autism though, everything is that much harder to teach and it is that much harder for our children to acquire certain life skills. Sometimes they surprise you, one of my twins was potty trained in three days, the other took a year. But many skills you thought might not be achieveable in the early days, usually turn out to be possible. They might just take longer or be acquired at a later age but with determination and perseverance they do finally happen.
Learning to communicate, ideally using language is one of the hardest life skills for most of our children and the one that children without autism acquire seamlesssly without any input. For our children with autism, acquiring speech can be a lifelong learning process.
This week, my 18 year olds have gone on a school trip away. In previous years, I have packed for them but this year, it was time they did it themselves. Armed with a list of what they needed to pack, I left them to it. Like all these skills, it’s so much easier just to do it for them. Endless questions and parading of clothes , each item questioned before being packed and I started to wish I had done it for them. It would have taken me 10 mins but instead the process took hours and tested my patience.
I need to increase their life skills and remember that it is always short term pain for long term gain but sometimes I just don’t have the energy for the short term pain. So, I have found some after school carers to teach them some life skills, particularly cooking which is really not something I enjoy doing, so talking through every step of a recipe I will leave to someone else.
Teaching independence is a huge challenge and judging when they are ready for each new step needs to be carefully managed as failure can take us all backwards. It’s hard too to explain to the older boys why their younger brother is allowed more independence than they are and why he has learnt certain life skills before they have. We are a long way still from independent living and we still don’t know if it will ever be possible for the boys to live independently but I need to push their life skills and stop taking the easy way out by doing it all for them myself.