A couple of months ago, I read a few posts on Big Blueberry Eyes, Love That Max, and BLOOM about kids with disabilities being required to do chores at school. It all began when Michelle, author of Big Blueberry Eyes, went to observe the class her daughter will be joining next year as she transitions to middle school. As part of independent living skills training, this special education class was asked to wash the football team’s uniforms. Michelle was outraged, and I don’t blame her. Here’s why.
School is where kids go to learn reading, writing, math, science, social studies… Academic content. There are vocational schools out there, but this was not one of those schools. Deciding that these middle schoolers were going to spend less time on academic content, and more time completing chores to “serve” their classmates and school, is wrong. It sends a message that these students are not worthy, not capable, of learning to read and write. Furthermore, it communicates to their peers, particularly these football players, that their classmates with disabilities are beneath them, almost like their servants.
I noticed some comments on Michelle’s post, telling her that they think it’s great that kids were being taught how to do laundry, that this activity would help them to be more independent as adults. I agree that teenagers, with and without disabilities, should be learning these skills, but they should be happening at home.
Last Spring, I had the honor of meeting Tim Harris of Tim’s Place, a restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tim is a man with Down Syndrome who owns and manages his own restaurant (Tim’s Place). Tim was the keynote speaker at National Inclusion Project’s 2014 Power of Play conference. I will never forget what Tim said in his keynote address. He was reminiscing about growing up with siblings who were typically-developing and told us about all the times his parents and siblings told him he had no excuse not to do his chores. His family believed in him; they knew he was capable of taking responsibility and being a fully-contributing member of their household.
In order to encourage independence, all kids should be exposed to responsibility around the house. Start with something small– maybe sweeping, dusting, setting the dinner table, or loading the dishwasher. Instill in your kids a pride in their accomplishments. Let them know how much their help is appreciated. Kids of all abilities should absolutely be doing chores, because chores teach responsibility and independence.
The message is clear: have high expectations. Believe in your child (or student) with disabilities. Parents, set them up for success with chores that will help them be independent. This will prepare them for a fulfilling adulthood. Teachers, provide parents with support and resources to help them teach these skills at home. At school, tie academics in with independent functioning. Practice money skills, learn how to design a budget, practice writing job applications or personal statements, and read the newspaper. These are all valuable skills for developing independent thinkers and citizens!
–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Writer
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.