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Two Children, One Spectrum: Independent Skills

two children part 6


This is part 6 of our series about two different children on the autism spectrum. I’m again joined by Jen, from Anybody Want a Peanut, who writes about her son, Moe. Prior posts in this series can be found at the tab at the top of the page.


Today we’re talking about independent skills.



Connor is pretty independent in most things. That’s not to say that he’s proficient at things, just that he can do them independently. Take tooth brushing, for instance. He can brush his teeth independently, but most of the time he chews on the toothbrush while he jacks around doing other things. When I tell him that I need to brush his teeth for him, he gets mad and defiant about doing it himself.


We’ve worked hard to build his skills with the mindset that he’ll be independent as an adult. He’s currently working on learning to do his laundry independently. The biggest deterrent seems to be motivation. He isn’t naturally motivated to do most things, so we have to motivate him with a token system. The tokens can then be traded for electronics time. I’m slightly worried that when he’s grown and doesn’t have us handing him tokens for things, he might not be inclined to have clean underwear or fresh towels.


One thing we’ve held off on is letting him be independent in the community. He’s only 9, but other kids his age roam around on bikes and walk to and from school. He’s expressed interest in doing this, but I have to go with my gut. He’s just not mature enough yet for that much freedom and he’s easily distracted and prone to lose track of time. It would be so easy for him to get sidetracked on the way home, and I’m not ready for that kind of stress yet.


One area that continues to be a challenge is that Connor has almost no ability to entertain himself. Aside from watching TV or playing Minecraft, he cannot keep himself busy with toys or games. When he runs out of tokens he literally follows us around, begging us to play and entertain him. Although there is plenty of play time together, it becomes impossible to get any household chores done because when play time is over he has no idea how to keep himself occupied.



Moe does not have a lot of independence. I read a lot about how we aren’t supposed to be “helicopter parents” with our kids but with Moe, we are in full hover mode all the time.


At home, Moe requires full support to get dressed, put on shoes, brush his teeth, etc. He can help and likes to do things himself. He seems to be wanting this more and more, which is great. Moe can get undressed, for example, and if I put a shirt on top of his head, or orient his pants the right way, he can put them on. He is physically quite capable, but doesn’t necessarily have the attention or planning skills required to, say, get a complete outfit from the closet and put it on.


Moe loves to be out and about, and is generally a great shopping buddy. But he will also run away, or grab things off the shelf, so someone has to have a hand on him at all times. His nanny and ABA therapists have worked on some of these skills. At the grocery store, for example, Moe is now able to help push the cart or even walk alongside the cart but he is never out of arm’s reach, just in case.


Even at home, Moe’s impulsivity means he can’t have free access to rooms. It is frustrating for him, I know, to have to be watched, touched, or assisted all the time. He can’t understand it is for his safety and the safety of others that we have to be on him all the time. It is exhausting for us as well so we try our best to have the house be a place that is relatively Moe-proof. His room and the backyard are places of relative freedom for him.


Moe is not toilet trained and still wears a pull up. This is very challenging for all of us, though sometimes it weighs on me more than others. 


Like Connor, Moe has trouble entertaining himself with anything other than TV or the iPad. He has almost no independent play skills. This may be the most challenging piece for all of us. 



Join us on Thursday when we discuss school supports.


About Flannery

Kid, husband, dogs, my mother, full-time job, maximum stress, minimal relaxation...sooner or later I had to vent. AND we moved from California to Texas. I could start a whole other blog about that.

4 responses »

  1. Thank you for doing this series!

  2. I like how you qualify independent with proficient. I find that with Bridget. Can she do somethings independently? Yes, can she do them proficiently, not so much. that qualifier means a lot because it shows without the supports she really isn’t independent at all.

    I find myself nodding so much during this series. Thank you for thinking of it.

  3. My son also doesn’t play independently…. if I am unable to give him my time, then he does get stuck on screens. I do feel bad about it, however, it is not possible to give him my all 100%. What to do, what to do?


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