Have you ever considered making a chore chart for your child with autism or ADHD? Maybe you’ve tried and it fell flat. Maybe you didn’t think it would work so you never started. Maybe your child responded negatively at the mere whiff of a chore.
That last one’s not surprising.
After all, chores are defined as “unpleasant, but necessary tasks.” Not exactly something a kid would jump at. Yet, without them a family home can fall into a veritable domestic armageddon.
Maybe you’ve experienced it.
There are clothes everywhere. The sink is overflowing with dishes. The garbage is starting to smell. The house looks like a bomb dropped on it. The dog is buried alive under dust. Wait, was that a raccoon that just walked by?
Things have gotten out of control.
You’ve asked your child 100 times to bring their clothes upstairs, unload the dishwasher, take out the trash, and rescue the dog. But it has all fallen on deaf ears.
What’s a parent to do?
You don’t want to be a taskmaster, but you can’t take care of everything yourself. Seriously, how did muddy footprints get on the ceiling?
So you make a chore chart.
And everything goes according to plan…at first.
This chore chart for kids is neatly organized by time of day, tasks to be completed, and rows for shiny stars to fill their place once done. It’s a work of art. Something to inspire the masses. You can’t wait to see this chart fill up, the tasks get done, your child rewarded, and your home gloriously free of chores.
But then the weekend comes.
The chore chart goes overlooked. The clothes return. The trash piles up. The dishes go unwashed. And there’s that raccoon again!
Exhausting, isn’t it?
No matter how many chore apps and chore charts for kids you’ve seen, tried, or created yourself, there never seems to be one that works in actual life or meets your own child’s capabilities. For a child who has special needs such as ADHD or autism, finding the right chore chart for your kids that works can be challenging.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Below are some helpful tips to build a better behavior and chore chart for kids who have ADHD or autism. We'll then take a look at how Goally can help you eliminate the need for a physical chore chart altogether, and actually make doing chores fun.
Read on to rid your life of chore stress (and that raccoon) forever!
Make your chore chart easy on the eyes
Keep chore charts for kids simple.
Try and envision the chore chart from your child’s perspective. If it’s overwhelming for you to look at, imagine what your child sees! So they should be easy to look at and understand.
Less is more when it comes to making things appealing for children with ADHD or autism.
Too many sparkles, bright colors, or stickers can easily overwhelm or distract children who struggle with processing visual information. Keep colors basic and writing large and legible.
One very effective chore chart idea is to create a chart with large, unmissable text. Here’s an example of how to make a clear, functional chart:
Step 1: Type chores into a Word document
Step 2: Adjust the font and font size for best readability (Tip: Arial Black is a great choice.)
Step 3: Print it out
Step 4: Laminate the paper
Step 5: Cut each task into horizontal strips
Step 6: Apply Velcro command strips to the back of tasks and your chore chart
Not only can your chores now be removed, added, or rearranged on the fly, but they will be easier on the eyes.
Just remember to go easy on the color, too. Flashy colors like bright reds, oranges, and yellows can cause aversions in some situations. Green is always a safe choice. In fact, people see green better than any color.
Color choice is especially important to consider with a child with autism. One study found that due to the hyper-sensation characterics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), children with autism respond best to green and brown colors.
Keep tasks simple on chore charts for kids
A chore chart should incorporate tasks that are simple to complete and don’t have too many steps.
Children with ADHD and autism may get too distracted or overwhelmed if the task they’ve set out to do is too complex or takes too much time to complete.
One example is to finish their meal. Then, they can wipe off their plate or throw any remaining food in the trash and put the plate and utensils into the dishwasher. Each task should be broken down into a few small, manageable steps.
Another example - if their chore is to then take care of the dishwasher - try making unloading and loading two separate tasks. This will allow your child to focus on just one end goal at a time. It will also make rewarding for completed tasks easier on you and more fun for them!
If cleaning their room is overwhelming, breaking it down into small steps can help them feel successful along the way: Books on the shelf? Check! Dirty laundry in the hamper? Check! Trains on the train table? Check! Before you (or your child) knows it, these big, daunting tasks can get knocked out.
Keep chores age and developmentally appropriate
Dr. Robert Zeitlin discusses that for the development of any chore chart for kids, age-appropriateness of chores should be based on current abilities and strengths which are entirely at the discretion of parents.
For example, if you know your child has sensory needs that are exacerbated by odd smells or textures, it is unlikely that a good chore for them would be loading the dishwasher, where leftover food, coffee grounds, or something similar might line the sink area or dishes where their hands would be touching.
Below are some chart chart ideas grouped according to age-appropriateness.
Chore chart ideas for 4 to 6-year-olds
- Pick up loose toys, place them back in toy box or shelves
- Feed household pets
- Water house plants
- Wipe kitchen table clean
- Put shoes in shoe bin or on shoe rack
Chore chart ideas for 5 to 8-year-olds
- Load dishwasher
- Unload dishwasher
- Unload dryer
- Put away groceries
- Clean windows and doorknobs
Chore chart ideas for 9 to 11-year-olds
- Sweep floors
- Take out trash
- Mop floors
- Load and start washing machine
- Fold towels
Chore chart ideas for kids ages 12+
- Walk pets
- Watch younger siblings
- Vacuum floors
- Prepare simple dinners or side dishes
- Wash the car
Give reasonable time for chore completion
All children need clear limits and boundaries, even those who have ADHD or autism.
Having a well-designed chore or behavior chart means there are reasonable expectations for your child to complete those tasks.
For instance, each chore should have a deadline.
It is logical to assume your child can wipe down the table within ten minutes. Giving an endless amount of time to complete chores will not help your child to receive the immediate reward they are seeking.
Furthermore, it may lead your child to take advantage and put off doing their chores indefinitely. Because in their minds there are no parameters to when they will receive their reward. They could clean the bathroom now, or in an hour when they feel more ‘up to it’ and yet, either way, they’ll get the same reward.
Invoking a sense of urgency can go a long way.
Having boundaries and time limits for each chore ensures they get done in a timely fashion. Knowing also that a reward will be given immediately thereafter can keep children motivated and focused.
Pick the right behavior-based reward for doing chores
We have mentioned a lot about ‘rewarding’ your kids for doing their chores. Just to be clear, we’re not saying you should hand them a bar of gold every time they make the bed. Because even though the word conjures certain connotations, a reward can come in many forms.
Think of your chore chart as more than just a chore chart. It can also be a behavior chart.
Chore charts for kids don’t always have to focus on specific tasks or chores that children should complete. Charts can describe positive behaviors that parents want to see just as much as the chores they want their kids to do. Positive behaviors are just as important, and so these could be great additions to incorporate into a chore chart for kids.
Some positive behaviors to reinforce and reward might be:
- Saying “please” and “thank you”
- Washing their hands after using the toilet or before eating
- Brushing their teeth without being asked
- Doing a chore or request without having to be asked more than once
- Being kind to a sibling(s)
- Cleaning up after themselves after eating
Consider adding the behaviors above to your chart. This way your chart is not just about getting chores done, it’s about reinforcing positive behaviors in every regard.
This is a major reason why many chore routines and charts fail — they focus solely on completing negatively-perceived tasks (because let’s face it, taking out the garbage will never be fun), rather than consistently highlighting positive behavior and routines.
Here’s what child development expert Dr. Laurie Sperry says about the effectiveness of this type of positive reinforcement:
The key (and sometimes trickiest challenge) is finding the right reward for your child. A good place to start is by considering the four types of positive reinforcers:
- Natural - direct results (e.g. high test grade)
Token - items that can be exchanged for something of value (e.g. points)
Social - expressions of approval (e.g. “Wow! You made your bed so nicely this morning!”)
- Tangible - physical items (e.g. money, toys, or treats)
Each child is unique, so it’s important to provide a reward that they respond to well and has a long lasting influence. Activities are often overlooked, but can also be a type of effective reinforcement. Special trips to a favorite playground, bonus time on the trampoline, a chance to dance to a favorite tune with dad; these all can be motivating rewards for children, especially those who have a need to move!
To make your chore reinforcer even more effective make sure it is only given when your child completes the task(s), is given immediately after they finish, or is big enough to motivate - something they have an actual appetite for.
Lastly, below Dr. Laurie Sperry discusses how to set a schedule of reinforcement that helps to encourage continuation of the desired behavior, like doing chores.
Frequently Asked Questions About Chore Charts
What type of chore charts work best for kids with ADHD or autism?
Visual chore charts work best for children with ADHD or autism. Overall, children with ADHD or autism are very visual and literal individuals. Having simple, easy to understand tasks set out before them that they can either read on their own or recognize from simple pictures gives them a sense of independence and self-confidence.
Is including rewards on a chore chart a good idea?
Indicating clear rewards on a chore chart can help children with ADHD and autism draw a connection between the completion of chores and reinforcement. Thus, it is important when making a behavior or chore chart for kids that the tasks are very basic and designated individually one step at a time. The goal is to set the child up for the best chance of success and so they can be rewarded immediately after completing a task.
A 2018 study demonstrated that children with ADHD have reduced motivation the longer they wait. Keeping tasks limited to one step ensures the task can be completed in a timely fashion so that kids are still motivated for their reward.
Should a chore chart be daily, weekly, or monthly?
Depending on your child and how well they respond to your scheduling, chore charts can be laid out according to any timeframe you feel is manageable. However, it is important that you do not get too generic with tasks.
For children with autism and ADHD it might be better to start on a smaller scale by outlining a single week, with chores assigned to each day. You could even create a single-day chore chart, breaking up each chore into mini-tasks separated by morning and evening.
Making sure your schedule is limited in scope will also enable you to combine your chore chart with a behavior chart. For example, a parent might create a daily routine for a child with autism that shows what chores, tasks, and behaviors are expected of them throughout a single day.
Do chore apps for kids work?
Chore apps for kids were invented with the best of intentions. However, for children with ADHD or autism, these chore apps just aren’t as effective. On an iPad or tablet, kids can easily be distracted by games, music, and other forms of entertainment easily accessed by those devices.
Even on “lockdown mode’, kids can still become easily distracted from their chore chart app, especially with kids who already have attention challenges!
Chore apps typically are too universal and don’t consider the needs of children who have ADHD or autism. They’re also usually very busy and overwhelming to look at, doing more harm than good for a child who has special needs.
Getting Your Kids To Do Their Chores with Goally
Goally is a modern approach to creating chore charts for kids with autism or ADHD. It was designed as an alternative to physical visual charts and chore apps that enhances the benefits they provide, while reducing any restraints to progress.
Goally is a handheld digital version of a chore or behavior chart. As a standalone device it provides a more efficient and helpful way for children to check, interact, complete, and get rewarded for doing chores, without any of the distractions that occur with chore apps downloaded on mobile devices.
As we discussed, kids with ADHD and autism can be very literal and hands-on, so Goally is a great way to create a behavior and chore plan that not only holds their attention, but keeps it engaged on a recurring basis. Kids can navigate the designed plan all on their own, without needing reminders. The system even discusses rewards for each completed activity, set up through parents.
Some other ways it is an ideal choice for creating chore charts:
- Specifically designed for autism and ADHD development
- Pictures taken from your phone can be easily added to each step, illustrating for your child exactly what needs to be done.
- A visual countdown for each step helps children see and understand that each chore should take no more than a certain amount of time.
- No more sticky velcro or lost chore tasks to try to keep up with! Goally's portable device has it all in one compact solution.
- Reprint no more! If it turns out a morning chore would be better for the evening, or a new chore is added, it can be changed with the press of a button or two. Time and paper saved!
As we have seen, creating a chore chart for children with ADHD or autism doesn’t have to be a stressful chore unto itself. With the right approach you can set your child up for success.
It’s time we take a closer look at how we teach children with special needs such as ADHD or autism to do chores and behave in a positive manner.
Not every child learns the same way, but finding a way that works and tailors to the studied needs of those with developmental differences will allow children to feel more accepted, boosting their confidence and self-esteem.
When children are set up for success, we can watch them thrive!
And take out the garbage.
Ashley Lavoie is a mom of three and manages both child and adult ADHD and neonatal diabetes. She is advocating for awareness and loves writing and connecting with other families like hers.
Editor's note: This information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as needed, with a qualified healthcare provider and/or BCBA.