Spring Cleaning: Helping the Autistic Individual Declutter and Clean


This time of year is the perfect time to start planning spring projects to declutter and clean. Some individuals love diving into these sudsy tasks to conquer dust and grime, while others dread the work but love the results. The autistic individual may struggle with spring cleaning more than her neurotypical counterpart.


1. Prioritization

The person on the autism spectrum often has more difficulty than most when assigning what should be most versus least important. For example, she may feel that re-alphabetizing the pantry is very important while cleaning out the overflowing coat closet is of minimal importance. Sometimes making a list with a supportive partner can help.


2. Where to Start

It's common for the individual to know what to do but then feel completely overwhelmed about where to start. Breaking large tasks down into smaller tasks can be a good strategy. For example, instead of "clean out the coat closet," make a list ahead of time of what this means. One piece of the task may be to put items in need of laundering in a basket. The next step could be to make a pile of things to sell at a garage sale.


3. Getting Momentum

Many on the spectrum describe feeling "lazy" or "unmotivated" for these mundane tasks. They often need something to help them gain momentum. Try adding an element of fun. For example, the person could see how much of the task she could get done while her favorite song plays. She could plan rewards at intervals (e.g., once I get a box ready for Goodwill, I'll stop on the way and get an ice cream cone). Competitions can be great ways of gaining energy for a tedious task. The race could even be online with friends. Whoever posts before-and-after pictures of three dirty-to-clean rooms will win a prize.


4. Parting with "Stuff"

One of the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 for autism talks about unusual attachment to objects. It is common for people on the spectrum to show extreme reluctance to part with certain items that feel very important to them. Try starting with a portion of the objects (e.g., must fill one box of items for Goodwill) or a graded stage of letting go (e.g., must take one box of things to the basement from the bedroom).


Whatever strategy works best, remember that the difficulties cleaning, organizing, and decluttering for the autistic individual are neurologically based. Taking a strategic approach and setting reasonable goals is a great place to start to make some headway.


#autism

©2020 by Theresa Regan