# How to Teach or Encourage Independent Problem Solving?

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A couple days ago Elliot (8 years old) was getting ready to vacuum his bedroom.  He came to me holding his door stop.  The door stop had spent the winter tucked away, but was back in his room now that it was warm enough to open the window.  He and I had a conversation:

E - What do I do with this?
Me - It's your door stop.
E - What do I do with it?
Me - You shove it under your door to keep it from slamming.
E - If it is under the door I won't be able to vacuum there.
Me - So take it out from under the door.  Your window isn't open right now so your door won't slam.
E - But if it not under my door then it will get vacuumed up.  (Sidenote: REALLY?!?!  He thinks a bulky doorstop can get vacuumed up?)
Me - So move it off the floor.
E - Like hold it?
Me - I suppose you could hold it, or put it on your dresser or bed or in your pocket or in the hallway...
E - Oh, okay.

Then this morning, I asked Peter (10 years old) to gather the laundry while I was in the shower.  A couple minutes later he came into the bathroom and we had this conversation:

P - Look, mom.
Me - I'm in the shower Peter.
P - Look.
Me - What is it Peter?
P - Look at what I found.
Me - Do I have to look right now?
P - I found it near the clothes.
Me - [I assume it is something he thinks is important but doesn't have a word for.  My guess is DH's number-generating, identity-verifying, fob thingie from work.  Sometimes he forgets that in his pocket.  I pop my head out of the shower and Peter has....A PENNY!]
Me - That is a penny.
P - I found it and I don't know who it belongs to.  Where should I put it?
Me - Well, the button and COIN container on the drier seems a good spot.  Or my desk so you could ask me about it when I got out of the shower.  Or your pocket.  Or the kitchen counter.   Pretty much anywhere that did not require interrupting my shower.
P - I'll put on the counter.

I know they both have executive function weaknesses.  I know they are both black and white thinkers.  But, good golly, it seems like they don't do any of their own thinking.  We go through these types of interactions dozens of times every day.  They ask what utensil they need...for yogurt.  They ask if they should put on shoes...as we leave to go to the doctor.  They ask if they should wash their hands...when they are covered in paint.  Even my 3 year old has now surpassed them in planning, decision making and self-help skills.  My older boys will literally stand a foot away from their full cup and tell me they are thirsty rather than just taking a drink.  🙄

I feel like I have spent their entire lives encouraging them to be more independent, teaching the skills, structuring the environment, setting them up for success, etc.  But it is clearly not working very well.  What else can I bring to the party?  Books?  Resources?  What phrasing can I use to describe these issues to their therapists and psychologists, and what might they be able to do to help?

Thanks.

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Are you giving them the answers? My ds has been doing a Cooking to Learn program and just stood there when he had a spill. He had zero clue what to do. I gave him a bit to think and was like ok, you need to wipe it up, what do you need FIRST? No answer, finally with some prompts an answer. Ok so where do you FIND that? No answer, some prompts (think about it, you put them away, where do you put them).

What I think is admirable and is a win is that they're trying to pick up. You've clearly won on that.

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I try to ask guiding questions.

For example, yesterday my 10 year old came to me perplexed holding a sock.  He had found it in his drawer, but it was Elliot's sock.  He seemed entirely stuck on the wrongness of situation - why was it there? how did it get there? who put it there? - and incapable of accepting it as a fluke and coming up with any sort of solution.

Several times I said something along the lines of, "I don't think it matters how it got there.  What can you do about it now?"  He had no clue.

Even once we established through leading questions that he knew of two places where Elliot had clean socks (his drawer and his clean laundry bin), Peter still could not make the leap to putting the sock in one of those places.

Finally I asked, "Could you put it away?"  He said yes and did so.

But still, even though I mostly asked questions, it took a huge chunk of my time to sit and problem solve with him and ultimately I still ended up doing almost all of the thinking.

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Yup. And sequencing issues and problem solving issues are a known gig with ASD. On the plus side, after my ds works through something like that once or twice, usually he has it for the next time. I'm not sure there is a great answer except doing it and providing supports and prompts at the level they need. It doesn't sound like they're getting angry. When my ds has a problem like that, he'll either be oblivious or ANGRY. So then he'll say nasty things to the other person, blame them, call names, etc., sigh. Kinda challenging to deal with.

There is in the SLP field the Test of Problem Solving and there will be workbooks for problem solving. Also workbooks on sequencing. But really, part of it is the mindset, at least for my ds, being willing to say he has a problem and needs help and not get angry. We can have kind of a problem solving mindset by practicing it in other settings. But for nailing life skills problems, they're so replete I think you just keep doing it. Like my ds would have trouble standing at the door with things in his hands. Well even after we learn how to solve that, something else is going to come up. It's not like it stops.

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These are all things Linguisystems sells. Other stuff I've used from them has been great, so these probably are too. I've used things from the Spotlight and No Glamour series, etc. But I think the advantage is promoting a mindset and not necessarily that you're going to win on teaching everything they will have problems with. Our kids, because they're home, tend to be really high on life skills experiences. So your kids are working on putting away, picking up their rooms, cooking, life skills. Kids in school have schooly problems and social problems, so sometimes the materials are aimed at that.

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On 6/15/2019 at 10:58 AM, wendyroo said:

Then this morning, I asked Peter (10 years old) to gather the laundry while I was in the shower.  A couple minutes later he came into the bathroom and we had this conversation:

P - Look, mom.
Me - I'm in the shower Peter.
P - Look.
Me - What is it Peter?
P - Look at what I found.
Me - Do I have to look right now?
P - I found it near the clothes.
Me - [I assume it is something he thinks is important but doesn't have a word for.  My guess is DH's number-generating, identity-verifying, fob thingie from work.  Sometimes he forgets that in his pocket.  I pop my head out of the shower and Peter has....A PENNY!]
Me - That is a penny.
P - I found it and I don't know who it belongs to.  Where should I put it?
Me - Well, the button and COIN container on the drier seems a good spot.  Or my desk so you could ask me about it when I got out of the shower.  Or your pocket.  Or the kitchen counter.   Pretty much anywhere that did not require interrupting my shower.
P - I'll put on the counter.

Besides what Peter Pan offered, I have a small suggestion...Elliott's issue seems to be more straightforward EF stuff--not thinking about all the possibilities, not really paying attention to surroundings or functionality in a way that helps him know what can be done another time (out of sight, out of mind). My straight-up ADHD people do this a lot. It's not relevant until they think it's relevant, so the information does not go into their brains.

With Peter, I think it sounds like he's thinking, but not in way that leads to action. It sounds as much like he is stuck on a different track as not thinking. Obviously, that's still a problem and still frustrating. So, for instance, in the bolded part, it sounds to me like he feels like he can't put it away because he's defining put away as going back to the person it belongs to (and if he struggles with knowing how much a penny is worth, that could make this harder--he might feel like it's a big deal, maybe). It sounds like maybe he has the data to make a decision but doesn't realize that you want him to act.

On 6/15/2019 at 12:00 PM, wendyroo said:

I try to ask guiding questions.

For example, yesterday my 10 year old came to me perplexed holding a sock.  He had found it in his drawer, but it was Elliot's sock.  He seemed entirely stuck on the wrongness of situation - why was it there? how did it get there? who put it there? - and incapable of accepting it as a fluke and coming up with any sort of solution.

Several times I said something along the lines of, "I don't think it matters how it got there.  What can you do about it now?"  He had no clue.

Even once we established through leading questions that he knew of two places where Elliot had clean socks (his drawer and his clean laundry bin), Peter still could not make the leap to putting the sock in one of those places.

Finally I asked, "Could you put it away?"  He said yes and did so.

But still, even though I mostly asked questions, it took a huge chunk of my time to sit and problem solve with him and ultimately I still ended up doing almost all of the thinking.

I think that maybe your leading questions might have to be different for each of your kids. I think Peter might need something super direct like you stated above and not go through the why it got there (unless you have time and feel that conversation is fruitful in a different way such as broadening his understanding of how mistakes happen). I wonder if using Social Story type of language with him as you talk would help--something like, "When we find a penny, and we don't know whose it is, we put it in the lost penny bin." Ditto for misplaced socks. Or say, "When I find a lost penny...could you do the same thing, Peter?"

I think Elliott is only going to get something when it's relevant in an in-your-face way based on experience in my home! My ADHD family members will move important things if they are in the way without looking at what they are moving, judging why it's there, or being able to tell you later that they'd touched those items. The important thing is that they needed it out of the way, so they moved it. I have WATCHED my two ADHD people move something while denying they were doing it. I pointed to the item in their hands, and they were completely baffled. I have zero strategies for this, but as Peter Pan says, it's too pervasive of a problem to recommend a drink. 🙂

Do you have many rules that have exceptions? You strike me as being very technical and analytical, and while there is nothing wrong with that, I wonder if you sometimes give too much context, and they feel unsure? That's not your fault, BTW; it's just a difference in style. I can sometimes do that to people when they really just want to know what to do "this time." My ASD plus ADHD kiddo actually likes context, but there are times it really throws him. My ADHD people...context and tips are just pearls before swine, lol! 🤣

I am sorry it's so frustrating!

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