Many children don’t readily develop certain adaptive skills such as toileting, dressing, and brushing teeth that other children seem to develop naturally. When this is the case, parents can help by developing realistic goals and adapting them as skills are obtained. The following steps can be applied to each target skill.
a. To begin, identify a specific self-help behavior as a goal; for example, your child’s first goal may be brushing his/her teeth independently.
b. Observe other children completing this activity or pay careful attention when you are completing this activity. Make a note of every step in the teeth-brushing process.
c. Now you have broken teeth-brushing down into a series of steps. Start with step #1 as the first goal. When your child is brushing his/her teeth, provide as many prompts and reminders and necessary for him/her to complete the task. Visual cues may also be useful at this stage. However, do not provide too many prompts. Otherwise, your child may become dependent on the prompts, even when he/she no longer needs them.
d. As your child becomes successful at each step, gradually remove some of the prompts and provide rewards for appropriate behavior.
e. Be consistent – training must occur at every opportunity. If you are pressed for time one evening and brush his/her teeth for him/her, rather than sticking to the training procedure, it is possible that your child will regress and you will have to start over from scratch.
f. Create a plan for transferring skills learned at home to other settings. For example, help your child generalize his/her teeth-brushing skills to public restrooms, school restrooms, or a friend’s house.
There are many helpful books available that have been designed to teach self-help skills to children and adolescents. One example is Taking Care of Myself by Mary Wrobel and Autism Life Skills by Chantal Sicile Kira. You may find it helpful to purchase a book like this or check it out at a local library and read it with your child. Just remember to always be patient and don’t be afraid to tweak these strategies to make them most appropriate for your unique child.