The nightmare continued year after agonizing year; clean one room, move onto the next only to return to the first room to find it completely destroyed again. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat……… I tried everything I could think of to stop this vicious cycle. A cycle that left me exhausted, disheartened and clinging desperately to the edge of my sanity. I tried every trick in the book to train my five boys to pick up after themselves and to stop the rampant destruction. It was a losing battle that made me feel like a dismal failure as a mother, housekeeper and wife. Everyone gave advice, platitudes or “constructive” criticism. I tried it all and only felt more disheartened as each suggestion failed more miserably than the previous. I know everyone has to stay on their kids to clean up and every child has an inborn destructive gene that can cause large scale messy destruction. I know that the male of our species seems to have been granted an extra special amount of this destructive gene. Please believe me when I tell you that what we were experiencing went far beyond all that. As with everything when you add autism into the mix it amplifies all the normal things. The connection between action and consequence has been beyond difficult to forge with some of our boys. It does not matter how consistent the discipline or structured the house when a child doesn’t have that connection it is nearly impossible to make progress. Also my own health issues had made it impossible for me to do as I used to. The recipe for disaster was complete and my house was a disaster!!
This is how Operation Cleaning Boot Camp (to be referred to as OCBC from here on for brevities sake) came into being. As mentioned above I had come to the end of myself. So I did the one thing I should have done years ago: I prayed about it. Yes I know this should have been my first step but somehow it never occurred to me to pray about this. I think my own sense of failure and shame was a large part of why. Just like in the Garden of Eden, we hide from God during the times we should be clinging to him. I prayed that he would give me the right words that my boys could hear and understand. I prayed he would begin to change their hearts and mine. I prayed that he would give me the perseverance to follow through on whatever the plan. I prayed for a plan of action that would work.
Here it is the plan that has been working for the Skiff house.
Step One- Prayer as mentioned above. I cannot stress this enough. It has really made that big a difference.
Step Two-The Name
It was important for the boys to have a catch phrase to associate with the new plan and way of life. When I tell them it’s time for OCBC every morning they instantly know what is going to happen. It’s like turning a switch in their brains. I don’ know if this only an autistic thing or if it is more generalized to other kids as well. It has made a huge difference. Just telling them we were going to clean didn’t do it for some reason.
Step Three- The talk
Before we began I sat all five boys down and we talked (actually I talked ;) I explained the importance of their help with the house both on a practical level but also on a character level. They needed to understand that this was about more than a clean house it was about them growing into mature, responsible adults. I told them I could no longer carry it alone and that I needed their help. I explained the positive rewards for doing their chores and the negative consequences of not. Here’s an example: Today we need to accomplish this, this and this. Here are your individual chores. If we get these done in a timely manner we will be able to go to the pool. However if they aren’t we will not have a chance to go swimming because there will not be time. I also apologized for the past times when I lost my temper and yelled in frustration. I committed to staying calm. I asked that they each promise to do their best as we improved as a family.
Step Four-the Chore Division
In the past I would assign a room that needed to be cleaned to all of them. I would say: It’s time to clean the playroom. You pick up toys, you pick up any trash, you any clothes etc. This only led to them getting frustrated with each other and arguing. Nothing would get done unless I went up and painfully supervised EVERY SINGLE action. The youngest would get away without working at all because they would just get in the way. Now I assign them each a different chore separate from each other. I rotate some chores between the older ones and others between the younger guys. It works out much better this way for now. Maybe after we get this down we’ll have an Operation Work as a Team Boot Camp…..one thing at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Step Five-The When
I have found it is just as important when I assign chores as it is what I assign. For us first thing in the morning after breakfast works best. This is my golden opportunity window. After this time their focus is everywhere but on their chores and it takes a lot longer and a lot more reminders from me.
Step Six-The Follow Through
This is my challenge in all this. I have to be consistent to make sure the chores get done correctly, to make sure all rewards and disciplines are followed through on and to keep my emotions in check. This whole plan goes to hell in a hand basket the moment I become emotional. Autistics have a very hard time dealing with others emotions. They can’t easily decipher what they are all about. Instead of thinking oh I better do my job because I am frustrating her. They just start getting frustrated themselves and they don’t know why. I call this feeding off emotions….or emotional vamping but that’s not always well received;)
Step Six- Celebrate
I make a huge deal out of it when they do an exceptional job. I tell them what a great job they did and then I loudly brag about their accomplishments to other people (so they can over hear me ;) Everyone needs encouragement but again my spectrum guys can’t read emotion really well so I have to be sure to exaggerate my enthusiasm because they often won’t catch the quiet thank yous and good jobs.
So there it is: The OCBC in a nut shell. I hope some of you find this helpful. Thank you for being a safe place to share my failures and successes and just be real. Blessings to you my friends- Kristine