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The Small Things Really Add Up

The post below is by Lisa Smith, the mother of seven children, two with special needs. Her son Tate has autism. Lisa blogs about her experiences and can be found on Facebook at Quirks and Chaos or at

Tate has very little understanding of money or the value of a dollar. He does not understand that the price tag on a DVD and a cart full of groceries would not be the same. In order to teach Tate something about money, I decided he needed a chore and the ability to earn some money, along with shopping trips so he could buy some of the things he wants using the money He EARNS. I settled on unloading the dishwasher because Tate has excellent matching skills and would just have to match each dish or utensil to its correct cabinet or drawer.

It took a while but he has become an expert dishwasher un-loader. So far, he has only broken a couple of dishes. Tate gets one dollar every time he does his chore and is usually able to earn one dollar a day. Occasionally if he asks for a break and wants to forfeit his dollar, I agree and unload the dishwasher myself. Tate has been keeping track of how many times he has unloaded the dishwasher and I believe it is a fairly accurate count.

He almost always gives at least a little bit of a protest about the "hard" work. I will hear, “But mom! I have done it 96 times now!” Then I will say, “That is a lot of times but it has to be done everyday.” He will end with something like, “This will be 97. Maybe this will be the last time. I will really miss it.” (I think he has really mastered the sarcasm thing.)

Tate is learning to count his money. He still needs a lot of help with the coins but the paper money he is managing fairly well. So far the timing has been working out for us. Usually a DVD Tate wants will come out about the time he has around $20.00 saved.

A couple of times when I saw he was going to be a couple of dollars short we’ve come up with another job or two he could do. Picking up sticks in the yard before we mow is something he HATES to do and can think of so many excuses when I suggest it. It can be 3:00 in the afternoon without a cloud in the sky, and he will tell me it is about to rain or that it is too close to bedtime. The kid with almost no imagination can get pretty creative if he is trying to avoid manual labor!

A couple of days ago when I handed Tate his daily dollar he paused and asked, “Where do you get these dollars anyway?” Because Tate does not often ask for a why, where, or how, I was thrown for a second. I had to think fast and come up with a simple explanation for a pretty complex subject. I also needed to talk slowly for Tate to process. I reminded him about the kind of work his dad does and explained that people pay his dad for doing the work.

Tate did not walk away before I was done talking as he sometimes does. He listened! I wanted to get more detailed and explain banks and checks and deposits but I knew better. I knew I had to keep the explanation short and simple. I think he even understood my explanation! It is a fine line I walk when teaching Tate.

I celebrate the small things. Small things are really big things in our world.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.