Children with ASD Can Help Out Around the House

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

By Erica Kearney, M.A., BCBA, LABA

Many parents wonder if children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental disabilities should be expected to do chores around the house. Although it can be challenging to identify tasks they are able to do and strategies to help them succeed, it is well worth the effort. Like all of us, children with special needs develop more self-esteem and are happier if they feel needed and appreciated.

Before making up a list of chores, consider what your child enjoys doing and what s/he does well, and try to incorporate some of those things into the list. Talk to his or her teachers or behavior therapists and ask them what they think may be appropriate chores. Make sure your expectations are realistic.
What are appropriate chores for children with ASD and other special needs? This depends upon their skills and abilities. Many children can learn to put away toys, shelve books and DVDs, sort dirty clothes, and fold and distribute clean clothes. They may also be able to empty trashcans, put away groceries, and sort silverware.
Start with small requests and be sure to reinforce or reward your child when s/he successfully completes a task. Remember “Grandma’s Law,” and ask your child to complete a less preferred activity before rewarding him or her with a preferred activity. For example, “Put your plate in the sink, and then we can have dessert.” Or, “Hang up your jacket and put away yours shoes, and then we can watch your favorite show.”
Carefully select a reward that your child can earn only by completing his or her chores. If a child can gain access to the reward without doing a chore, then s/he is not likely to do the chore. For example, if you say you are going to give your child stickers for completing a chore, but then provide stickers when s/he is gentle with the cat, you may destroy his/her incentive for doing the chore. Why do the work when you can get a sticker for petting the cat?
Children with ASD often benefit from a having a schedule with a list of things to do. Identify a clear start and end to the list. Seeing and knowing what the expectations are can help them be more willing to comply. And try to be consistent. If you put something on the schedule – whether is a written or picture schedule – stick to the schedule. As a parent, I have to remind myself to stick to my word. For example, if I tell my daughter to take two more bites of dinner and then she can be done, I need to stay true to my word. If she takes two more bites, and I say, "Oh good, just three more bites now," then I am teaching her that I don't really mean what I say and that I change the rules. If we want children to understand the rules, we have to stick to the rules. The same thing goes for doing chores. Don't add chores to the list once your child has completed what is expected. S/he might consider that to be punishment and it might make him or her unlikely to do chores in the future.
Helping children with ASD and other special needs learn how to do simple chores can increase their daily living skills and give them skills that may someday be useful in vocational activities. Obtaining these skills will also give them a sense of satisfaction and pride as they become contributing members of the family.

Erica Kearney, M.A., LABA, BCBA, is Executive Director of the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Chicopee, Mass. She can be contacted at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, including one in Chicopee, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit