Breaking habits, building habits

Philip’s autism has led to several developmental delays. To be honest, I don’t feel like I know what is developmentally appropriate any more. When I was pregnant and in the first year after Philip’s birth, I subscribed to a few e-newsletters on “what to expect.” I finally canceled my subscriptions when it became clear that Philip was not just a late bloomer but experiencing significant delays, especially those in spoken language. Being a lover of language, I think this was the hardest for me to take. I as wrote about in this post, I’ve had significant training in language development. I thought I was doing all of the right things, yet Philip still wasn’t talking. My training just hadn’t prepared me for how to promote communication for my own non-verbal child.

So, I began to pick up some bad habits. One day, I realized that I could not recall the last time I said goodbye to Philip before leaving for work. His lack of response left me feeling like it was pointless. But it isn’t. I’m supposed to be modeling not only language, but social interactions. After that day, I decided I need to rebuild the habit of saying and waving goodbye each morning.

A question that came up in several of the autism screening tools was whether Philip could follow one-step or even multi-step directions.  Peter and I may not have agreed on all of our answers on the various surveys and questionnaires, but we definitely agreed on this one: no way. But I wouldn’t answer that question the same now. Through the building of routines at home and the intensive training at preschool, Philip’s receptive language has grown thus making it possible for him to follow at least a one-step directive. When he chooses. Hey, he’s a toddler. Even neurotypical toddlers choose not to listen.

Unfortunately, just because Philip has been learning doesn’t mean that his mommy has been keeping up. I have gotten so used to doing everything for Philip that I wasn’t giving him the opportunity to practice some basic self-care. Philip doesn’t let me get in his way. There have been several instances where he has surprised me by doing or at least attempting to do a task that I had once done for him.

For example, there was the day he reached down and zipped his own coat. Or the first time I saw he try to pull up his own pants after a diaper change. In talking to his preschool teacher, I’ve found out that they are challenging him to do these things himself. That’s what inspired me to make him undress himself for bath. Not only that, I taught him to put his clothes in the laundry basket. It took two days. He’s smart enough to learn, if only I make the effort to teach him.

This week I had another “aha” moment. I’ve been to Philip’s preschool several times. I know that the students are expected to take off their coats when they arrive and to put them on when it is time to go home. So why have I been doing these things for Philip? The taking off part has been easy. Philip is usually motivated to get out of his coat. But I kept thinking I had to put his coat on for him. Sure, I finally got out of his way and let him do the zipper. But for the first time on Wednesday (yes, this was only two days ago), I handed Philip his coat. And he put it on.

So, I’ll keep trying to find new ways to increase Philip’s independence. But I’m not only teaching him to do everything by himself. I’m also creating opportunities for him to problem-solve and ask for help. He may not ask right away, but I need to give him the chance.

Sweetie, your hood isn't supposed to cover your butt




24 thoughts on “Breaking habits, building habits

  1. I was doing the same thing. I guess I needed to slow down and not rush about. It takes us longer, but I don’t help with shoes or coats anymore. He still needs help with his zipper. Now getting undressed is a snap, but getting dress is a HUGE chore. I just have to learn to be patient.


    1. What you said about patience is key. I have to allow more time for things because his coordination is still developing. You are also right about undressing-so much easier than getting dressed.


  2. I have so been there. Assuming that my son couldn’t do something so I just did it for him when in fact he was fully capable if I would just get out of his way. It’s not just our kiddos that have things to learn. The good thing is that you’re willing. 🙂 Good job to Philip with gaining more independence.


  3. Those independent moments are sometimes hard for us moms, aren’t they. As I watch my son struggle with his socks, my fingers itch to help him. We have to teach ourselves new habits too. 🙂


  4. It is amazing to look back and see how far they have come. Easy to forget when they are on such individual developmental schedules. I just wrote about teaching my boy to say I love you. Its only an approximation but every time he says it – I’m quietly cheering.


    1. Thanks for stopping by my blog and posting this comment so that I had the opportunity to discover your blog. It looks like we are both on a “blogathon” for Autism Awareness Month. I look forward to reading more of your posts.
      I like how you described this-“individual development schedules.” Like The Boy’s Mom wrote above, we have to honor their schedules even when our fingers are itching to help.


          1. Ha ha!! I was thinking – maybe we should do some kind of joint post – we choose a topic together, both write about it from our different perspectives then post with links to the other – what do you think? Might be fun!


          2. Ok! Do you want to suggest a topic? Here’s a couple I’ve got on my list: food, meltdowns (everyone got a good meltdown story!) or the senses. More than willing to go with something else though. Flexible on the timing for it too – we could just pick a date and publish that day.


  5. OMG I still feel I do too much and sometimes I see him just waiting to see if I am going to help him with a life skill. I think I have a soundtrack in my head running that says ” let him show you what he can do and wait to see if he needs a prompt or ask for help.” I know my son learns through repetition but I think Mommy does too:)


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