The Battle of Learned Helplessness vs Independence

“Mom, Mom, Mom”, this desperate plea for attention may sound familiar to you. From birth, children need their parents or caregiver’s help to complete tasks. From eating, to changing diapers, and to bathing. For children with ASD, once this becomes their routine, it can be challenging for them to recognize as they develop what they can do for themselves. 

Some children may even insist on the help of a parent when they know they can accomplish the task just for the sake of the routine. Other children may just assume mentally that they can’t accomplish the task because their parent has always done the task for them. At this point parents may recognize that the child needs independence but don’t know how to motivate the child to get the task accomplished. Here are some steps that parents can take to help their children gain skills and more independence: 

  1. Assess where your child’s skills are
    1. Watch your child when they think you aren’t looking and see what they really can do on their own. This is called a baseline, knowing where your child is at before you start helping them to increase their skill set. 
  2. Begin to slowly fade out the help you’re giving your child. Depending on your child’s skill set and needs, you can explain this to them ahead of time to prime them for the transition, provide visuals or other support. 
    1. Fade your prompts from what will initially help them to be independent with the skill to the next effective step: 
      1. Ways to help during a task: 
        1. Physical- physically guide your child
        2. Model- Show the child by exemplifying the skill
        3. Verbal- give a verbal instruction or explanation
      2. Ways to help your child before a task:
        1. Movement- gesturing/tapping to what you want them to use/do
        2. Position- Place the item you want them to use closer
        3. Redundancy- Make the item you want them to use more obvious in the environment
  3. Know if you’re talking to them and telling them how to do something, that is a verbal prompt. Limit talking to them during tasks!
  4. Act like you’re busy, even if you’re not. This may help your child from trying to gain more help from you than what is needed.
  5.  Be consistent, positive and ignore behaviors. 

These steps aren’t easy and it takes a lot of work on your part to implement but in the end you’ll have a kid reaching new milestones. Seeing your child be able to be as independent as possible will make you and likewise your child feel accomplished.