Why do you make the job meaningful for a person with autism? You want your child to be involved, right? To be an active part of a group or a project or most importantly, your family. Your dream is that the child will want to join in on some activities without being asked. I say some because it’s really not realistic to want the child to jump into all activities. Even my social butterfly NT child doesn’t do that. Ever wonder what makes a child want to join in? Better yet, ever wonder what makes a child with autism want to join in an activity?
Here’s the answer: meaning. It’s such an easy answer that you might think, what? Let’s break it down, shall we? People with autism have a black and white perspective on everything. There is no gray area in their minds. It’s right or it’s wrong. Not half right or just a little bit wrong. The same can be said for activities or jobs. There’s a purpose or there isn’t. It’s important to help them to figure out a purpose for the job or activity so they will want to join in . For a person with autism , nothing is more nerve wracking than doing something without a tangible goal in the end that makes sense. Their brains aren’t wired that way. It’s hard for them to maintain self regulation if all their energy is going to figuring out the purpose. Want to see what this looks like here in Autismland? Of course you do or you wouldn’t still be reading.
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Logan will usually help me with laundry. A simple request to change the loads will illicit a favorable response from him without delay . He will not help me rearrange the furniture without a 20 minute dissertation on how the previous arrangement was working fine and there is no need to change it. This particular task unnerves him on two levels. He hates change and to him , it’s pointless. Why would you want to change the furniture around to different spots? It makes no sense to him. This could be his male brain too as it makes no sense to my husband either. But, here’s the difference. Michael will help me move the furniture in spite of not understanding the point. Logan will continue to stop or refuse to start because he doesn’t see the point. We’re working on this slow and steady. My future daughter in law will thank me one day.
You can’t just expect a person with autism to jump in and join everything on a daily basis. But you can encourage them to try but helping them to see the meaning behind the activity. At first, I would show him concrete examples . The children are trying to build a fort to play in together. We do dishes everyday to have a clean kitchen and no bugs. It’s much more fun to do dishes together than all alone. If you sweep the floor while I clean the table , we will be done faster and can do something fun. He has a job with purpose in his mind. You have to self talk some things out for him to make the connection. I might say out loud ” I get a clean kitchen and get to hang out with you. This is way more enjoyable than doing it myself.” Perhaps I will give him the choice of what he wants to do in the activity. “Sweep or table? Then we can play Monopoly.”
After he made some of those connections easily, I bumped it up to some abstract concepts. We do this for someone simply because it makes them happy. There is no rhyme or reason to it. It simply brings happiness. It’s important here to acknowledge that there is no point to the job or activity other than pure enjoyment, either for us or the recipient. This is a much harder one to teach . Lots of self talk out loud is involved but I acknowledge at the beginning that I don’t see the purpose either. He sees me do it anyway. Sometimes he joins in while sometimes he just doesn’t. It’s still a work in progress.
The key to this skill is starting small with readily apparent goals . You’re actually helping the child understand the purpose more than helping them to want to join in the activity. That will happen naturally after they understand. One leads to the other. It’s a great skill to accomplish that will serve them well later on in life.