Consistency and patience pay off
I have this group of friends that have been together for a very long time. Our children are about one month apart in age. When our kids were 3 years old, I noticed that my friend’s little girl could independently dress herself. My friend said her daughter had been dressing herself for a while. My immediate thought was that my son Jacob, who has autism, couldn’t do that.
I have always accepted any deficits Jacob has, and I celebrate anything that he can do. I have a rule, however, that I will at least introduce new things to see how he will respond. If he doesn’t do it, at least we tried. So when he was 3 years old, I decided to introduce Jacob to getting himself dressed.
It initially was hard and very frustrating because he didn’t do anything. He would just stand there. I would say, “OK, this is the shirt. These are your pants. Put on your shirt and then put on your pants.” Each night I would put his clothes on his dresser so he could get dressed the next morning on his own. The next morning, I would go into his room, and the clothes would be where I left them, and I would help him dress.
I would alternate tasks. One day I would put on his shirt, and he would put on his pants. The next day we switched. We were late to his preschool every day. His teachers knew that we were late because I gave him all the time in the world to get this task done all on his own. The joke at the preschool was whenever his dad brought him to school, he was on time, but if it’s mommy, well that was a different story. Every morning felt like a failure, but I didn’t rush him, and I didn’t put any time restrictions on his getting dressed. I wanted to give him extra time so he could succeed.
One year later when Jacob was 4 years old, I put his clothes on the dresser before he went to bed like I’d done each day for the past year. The next morning when I went to his room, he was dressed! I walked out of the room and asked my husband, “Hey, did you dress Jake this morning?” He had not. It took one full year, but my son learned to dress himself. I assumed it was just a fluke, and the next morning we would start all over again, but the following morning he put on the clothes I had laid out for him all by himself.
I have no idea what changed. I don’t know if it was just consistency or positive interaction with getting dressed, or if he was just ready, or a combination of all three. What I do know is I never gave up on him. I repeatedly gave him the opportunity to do something, and one day he simply did it and gained such great satisfaction and pride with being independent. He eventually started picking out his clothes, and regardless of how his outfit looked, I could not have been any prouder.
The pride and joy in his face the minute he wakes up to get dressed for school brings me an immeasurable amount of joy. We are no longer late to school because he is the first one up and the first one ready all by himself. While it was frustrating during this process, I recognized the importance of consistency and following through with a task to help foster independence. Do not give up on your child. The reward for patience and consistency is far greater than you can ever imagine.
Beatrice (Bea) Moise is a board-certified cognitive specialist and is the founder of A Child Like Mine, a company created for educating parents of children with unique behavioral and learning needs, a parenting coach at Southeast Psych in Charlotte, and mom to Jacob — who is awesomely autistic — and Abigail who is simply marvelous.