Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Therapy Through Household Tasks

Life with a child with special needs brings with it an array of special joys, special moments and special challenges. The trick is to make the most of the joy and accomplishments and not allow the challenges take over and run our lives. 

I know each situation is different, and to know a child with special needs is to know a child with special needs, but this does not carry over to all children with special needs. Each disability is unique and each child with any given disability is also unique.

One of the challenges I face within my family is finding ways to provide each child with the appropriate therapeutic activities to address the needs without having therapy take over our lives. This can easily happen with one child and when there are three children in a family with therapeutic needs it can become triple the challenge. No one wants to feel to like their life is taken up with therapeutic tasks that have no real value (in the eyes of a child) beyond completing the task. And no one wants to feel as if the main goal of their life is simply to get to the next level of therapy. But I also cannot ignore the fact these needs are real and must be addressed. But there had to be ways of accomplishing these tasks that not only brought about the desired result but also give the child an extra boost in quality of life, and the satisfaction of accomplishing something that has real life value.

One of the ways I've chosen to work on this is through a daily routine in which everyone has household responsibilities geared both toward their abilities and areas that needed to be worked on. This has multiple benefits for all of us. Time the child spends on these tasks is also time spent accomplishing something productive that benefits not only the child but the whole family. And the time I spend helping and supervising the child is also time spent getting a job done that needed to be done anyway, leaving more time for other fun activities.

Here some examples of ways household chores can also provide therapeutic benefits. 

Making the Bed
This simple task has several important components. There is the stretching and pulling and straightening that goes into putting on the sheets and blankets correctly. It takes concentration and attention to detail. There is lots of opportunity for practicing eye/hand coordination. And when the job is finished their is the sense of satisfaction that comes from having completed a worthwhile task.

Cleaning Up the Kitchen
How much of this can be done by the child depends on the age and abilities of the child. For a younger child it can be enough to carry the dishes from the table to sink, taking care not to dump any contents that may still be on the plate. This takes focused attention, which is much needed skill for many kids. 

An older or more advanced child may go on to perform other kitchen tasks such as unloading/reloading the dishwasher, wiping down the counters and washing out the sink, putting away leftover food and sweeping the kitchen floor. There are so many skills being learned while doing these tasks. Once again, this is great practice for attention to detail. Unloading and reloading a dishwasher are great ways to work on eye/hand coordination, and cognitive and sensory processing and integration. Gross and fine motor skills come in to play here as well. And there is often the opportunity in the kitchen to work on sensory sensitivities. For one child I have a written list of instructions that need to be followed in order to attain the desired result of a clean kitchen. This helps him to stay focused and on track. When the job is finished there is the sense of having completed a task that benefits the whole family. 

Many kids love to vacuum. There's just something about being in control of this big noisy machine that fascinates them. So take advantage of this desire to run the vacuum and enjoy clean floors as well as a child who is building strength while pushing the vacuum around.

Cooking can be a very stretching activity for many kids with disabilities. But it is also a fun one that has great reward - yummy food to eat and share with others. 

There are so many ways to tailor this activity to individual needs. There are many simple recipes with few ingredients for those just starting out. Following directions, whether read aloud to the child, or the child reads them with help or independently, is such an important skill. Once again this is an activity that requires attention to detail, eye/hand coordination, and cognitive and sensory processing and integration. 

Learning to do laundry presents a variety of skills to master. Carrying the baskets or piles of laundry to the laundry area is a great strengthening activity. Sorting darks from lights and towels from clothing is good for sensory and cognitive processing and integration. Staying focused and on task is important if the job is to be finished. Gross and fine motor skills come into play here as well as baskets are carried, detergent is measured and buttons are pushed. 

As the child learns new skills and masters new tasks be sure to praise the effort and acknowledge the value of these accomplishments. Make sure to tell others when the child can hear about all the helpful things the child is learning to do. We all need to be needed and our kids who struggle with so many challenges have an even greater need to know their contributions to the family are valued. 

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