Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum

Self help skills

Parents of children on the autism spectrum often worry about what will happen when they're not around to provide constant support to their children. Ideally they would hope to prepare their child to live independently. Developing their children’s self help skills, such as getting dressed, personal hygiene, learning the value of money, cooking, cleaning and so on, was a key objective for some of the parents we interviewed. In keeping with the range of abilities on the autism spectrum, the levels of self help skills parents discussed in relation to their children varied widely. Here we focus on the parents whose children were in their teens and older.

Some of the obstacles to the children developing self help skills were related to sensory sensitivities or the importance of routine to them. One boy, for example, could not bear the taste of toothpaste and other children did not like to have their hair or skin touched (see ‘Fears, anxieties, sensory issues and meltdowns’). Some children had difficulties with coordination, problems organising themselves and short-term memory problems all of which slowed their ability to learn to do things for themselves. As one parent said; “If you send him upstairs to pick something up, he has forgotten by the time he gets upstairs what you sent him for”.

Learning the value of money was an issue for the parents of older children or adults. One mother whose daughter lived independently described how her daughter managed her finances and paid her own bills but usually ran out of money by the end of the week because of her interest in collecting porcelain figures.

Personal hygiene
Many parents talked about their children forgetting to shower, wash their hair or clean their teeth. Parents had to constantly remind their children to wash or clean their teeth or change their sheets.

One mother said that her daughter washes obsessively but then puts on dirty clothes because of the “nice safe structure” of familiar textures and smells. Hygiene was an issue for girls when their periods started and they did not dispose of their sanitary towels effectively or change their bedding regularly.

A few of the young people were still in nappies during the day or just at night and a few other children would occasionally not get to the toilet in time. Hygiene in the toilet was also an issue.

Some parents, who felt that their children’s living spaces would be a “health hazard” without their intervention as the children did not clean up, they worried about them managing to live independently when they were older.

Cooking and cleaning
Parents of the older children described how their children could not cook and did not pay attention to sell by dates, check that food was cooked effectively or remember to turn off the oven or the hob.

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Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated November 2010.


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