In The Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids with Asperger Syndrome and Similar ASDs Real-Life Skills for Independence, Patricia Romanowski Bashe guides us through teaching life skills to kids with ASDs with average or above average cognitive skills who are seldom taught the basics of how to get along independently. It is often assumed that our kids are smart enough to just pick up these skills, but the author describes how various aspects of Asperger Syndrome and other co-occurring conditions make it difficult for our kids to learn.
What’s more, the author knows how difficult it can be to teach proficiency in these areas. We don’t remember learning these skills ourselves, and our efforts soon end in disaster when we get overwhelmed with emotion. This book gives us everything we need to overcome these hurdles, and provides a systematic approach to developing the tools our children need for self-reliance.
Patricia Romanowski Bashe is the coauthor of The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome, one of the first books I devoured following Pudding’s diagnosis two years ago. When her publishers contacted me to see if I’d review a copy of her new book, I jumped at the chance, even though I felt like Pudding’s self-help skills were pretty okay. I thought this book would be a great one to have on my shelf as Pudding gets older and we have to start working on ways she can be more independent.
I couldn’t have been more wrong- this is not a book that stayed on my shelf! I was implementing changes before I’d even finished reading. As a parent of a child on the spectrum, the author knows how much easier it is to just do things ourselves. When you’re in a hurry (and when aren’t we in a hurry?) you don’t have time to teach these skills. As a behavior analyst, she knows the implications of not allowing our kids to develop their independence.
Now, as I mentioned, I didn’t particularly feel that Pudding is a particularly dependent child; but by helping her in the wrong way, I’d been unintentionally encouraging her to be more dependent on me. I often talk Pudding through a series of actions, like getting dressed, or cleaning her room. It gets the job done, but it doesn’t teach Pudding to do it herself. If I (or somebody else) were not there to keep giving the directions, she would not be able to complete the activity. And the worst thing about my talking her through it? It makes it even more difficult for her to concentrate on what she needs to do:
“Remember that kids with AS are attracted to language; when words start flowing in, their attention to most other stimuli goes out the window.” p.148
The more I read, the sooner I wanted to alter my techniques. Like many parents, I have some reservations about the use of an ABA approach. While I think it is an excellent tool for teaching skills, and perhaps “real-life” skills most of all, I’ve always been put off by the idea of collecting and monitoring data. Every single objection I had is addressed in the book, and explained in a way that makes sense to me- we are evaluating the usefulness of the teaching method, rather than the performance of the child.
I was ready to jump in.
The book comes complete with all you need to get started, including a chart showing at which age most children have acquired certain skills. Pudding has just turned 5, so I looked for a task we’d never tried before to get started: making her own bed (not perfectly). This was a good place to start. It is easy for me to remain calm and objective (and not interfere) while observing Pudding making a bed. There was no safety issue at stake, and as we are on Christmas break, no real hurry or time pressure. The conditions were perfect. I found a suitable reinforcer, and using the techniques detailed in the book, Pudding is now independently making her own bed in the mornings. No nagging, no prompting, just another skill that she will use throughout her life.
There are plenty more to get working on. Learning and developing the skills our kids need to live independently is going to take time and effort, it is never too early to start. As Bashe writes:
“Ultimately, it’s all about choice. And when we limit the skills needed to exercise choices, we limit choice.”
I couldn’t recommend this book enough. It has everything you need to begin teaching or shaping the skills our kids need for when we’re not around. It might be the best gift we ever give our children.
The Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids with Asperger Syndrome and Similar ASDs Real-Life Skills for Independence is available now. You can find more information about Patty Bashe at her web site here.