Thursday, June 28, 2012

The art of shoe tying AKA Mom's own private Hell

Love the  concentration

The Boy will be 10 in a few weeks. And he STILL can't tie his shoes. I feel a shame akin to the sippy cup nonsense about this.  I have been working with him on this particular skill  off and on for the last 4 years.  When other more important things arose- shoe tying plummeted to the bottom of the list. I mean, in comparison to learning how to make eye contact, write (which is an ongoing battle) learning social skills, potty training (another drawn out nightmare), and then learning to ALWAYS use the bathroom, learning to dress himself, learning to feed himself, and basic educational things- shoe tying really wasn't that big of a priority. 

When he still wasn't tying his shoes by first grade, I got frustrated. I knew it was a life skill, I knew it was important, and I set my stubborn mind to it- I would MAKE him learn to do this. So I went out and bought the book the OT suggested when I brought it up to her- Red Lace Yellow Lace  and it is really neat. I would read it to him in a sing song voice until he memorized the rhymes- but refused to actually attempt to tie. I sang other fun songs when trying to teach him. I tried "bunny ears' and loop-de-loop and pull (thank you Spongebob!) but he would make halfhearted  attempts, or fixate on the rhyme or song, and then cry and run away.  I tried bribery, begging, threatening- taking a very neurotypical approach to a child who was not neurotypical. I got even more frustrated with myself, because all of the things I want OTHER people to understand about The Boy and his autism, I was losing sight of myself.  I am painfully aware of his lack of attention, his inability to focus for long periods of time, look at ME when I ask, watch what I am doing and then try to copy it. I was EXPECTING a typical kid response (having already been through this with 2 other typical kids) so it really came as no surprise when it finally dawned on me that these tactics WERE NOT GOING TO WORK WITH MY AUTISTIC KID! Duh mom....    

While it may seem like a simple task, tying your shoes is made up of lots of smaller tasks.And when teaching a child on the spectrum just about anything, you need to break it down into smaller chunks and perfect each stage before moving on to the next. Sounds daunting doesn't it? It is. This is how I taught him to talk, feed himself, dress himself (he still refuses to button pants- he puts them on buttoned) and everything else. So take the act of tying shoes, already a series of smaller tasks, and then have to break it down even further. It is seriously reinventing the wheel.  Did I mention that I am an impatient person?  And, well, Velcro is faster, period.  But the time is rapidly approaching where we won't be able to find Velcro shoes, and then he stands the chance of teasing because of it as well.  

This summer I promised MYSELF that I would teach him how to tie his shoes. This has gone on long enough, and he wants to play football again, and I don't want any issues with other kids when they see he can't tie his own shoes. He can't be out on the field and run to a coach or to his dad or I to help him. This is truly a life skill that he MUST learn- come hell or high water.  I know more, I have YouTube videos to watch, I have studied forward and backward chaining, I have a system that allows him to earn "screen time" when he practices tying his shoes and I have my determination. 

Today we had out first success- after 3 days of him fighting me and willing to not get that extra 20 minutes of screen time, I set an alarm and told him that as soon as it went off he was going to practice shoe tying with me for 10 minutes. He whined a little, but as soon as that alarm went off- he came and got me and said "Alright, let's work on this shoe tying thing"  I think all my harping finally got to him, he sounded resigned, but I was THRILLED! In 10 minutes he managed to get the first step down- using forward chaining*. Now come the loops, and pushing it through- *sigh* This is where the lack of fine motor skills really slowed him down. His hands were all over the place, and he tied his thumb and finger into the lace.  I could feel he was about to chuck the shoe and throw a fit- when he DID IT. It was sloppy and loose...but he tied his own shoe!   A giant bear hug and big kiss had him giggling and running away, and then of course asking if he got his extra screen time- but he did it!!

I made it through what felt like an hour long 10 minutes without raising my voice, getting mad or anything! I am going to go and treat myself to a congratulatory glass of wine!

*I have not used ABA very often with The Boy-I really feel like "shaping" is like dog training and my kid isn't a dog-  but these particular steps not only helped him, but helped me to teach him. Today was our first success in 4 years- and we will take it! 

1. Forward Chaining – begin with the first step of the task. Then teach sequential steps until they can perform all steps. This is a good method for children who have difficulty with sequencing and
generalizing skills.

2. Backward Chaining – demonstrate the entire task first. Repeat it, leaving out the last step for the child to complete. This method works well for children with low frustration tolerance or poor self esteem. It also gives the child early success.