Cleaning Steps for Young Adult with Autism?
September 16, 2019 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend (early twenties, shares an apartment with another friend of mine) with autism who needs help learning to clean up her living space. What are good resources for this? I'm especially interested in charts and stuff that break down exactly what "cleaning" means in a way that will be easy for her to follow.

This friend lacks both the situational awareness to recognize when cleaning needs to happen and doesn't understand the steps necessary to clean. I am happy to break this down as much as possible, e.g.:

When you're done eating:
1) Put leftover food in the fridge
2) Put food scraps in the trash can
3) Put tableware in the dishwasher
4) Put delivery bags and other disposables (e.g. napkins) in the trash can

But I'm wondering if there are other things I should be considering and/or what resources that provide this information already exist so I don't have to create them. Any other suggestions you have would be very much appreciated as well. Thank you!
posted by an octopus IRL to Education (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Would Unfuck Your Habitat be a useful framework? I think you’ll need to ramify some of it, based on the example you give, but it’s the most granular one I know.

Also, I love that there’s a slider in the app so you can choose whether the booster text is sweet or sweary.
posted by clew at 11:56 AM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

25 Incredibly Useful Spring Cleaning Cheat Sheets (Buzzfeed) - there's at least a couple of charts listing out steps for tidying up places like the bedroom and the kitchen that probably cover some of what you're looking for, though I haven't seen anything quite as granular as your example of what to do when you're done eating.
posted by rather be jorting at 11:58 AM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have they asked for your help? Nothing about us without us is a slogan for a reason. You don't mention it in your ask.

Tody is an app that you can list what needs to be done zone by zone and resets on last time done. You can add individual tasks. If they want you could set up a similar app and then they have to just follow when it buzzes. If they want to.
posted by kanata at 12:25 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have they asked for your help? Nothing about us without us is a slogan for a reason. You don't mention it in your ask.

Good point! Yes, this friend has explicitly asked for my help.
posted by an octopus IRL at 12:27 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah - those steps and instructions would stress me out. Like there are too many different things & steps, without definitions. Especially with "Whens" & stuff. Maybe ask how people on the spectrum clean, instead of a list of rules?

Like, cleaning after I eat would be structured as:

Before you leave the kitchen:
* put:
- trash in the trash
- dishes in the dishwasher
- food back in it's home.
* do:
- wipe the table/counter
- sweep if stuff fell on the floor
- put anything that doesn't live in the kitchen into the room it lives in. (Part of a general "sweep" where I start in one place & check every room (at least once a day) & make sure everything is in its home).

Then work maybe on what some of that means, but quick things they can remember. Maybe ask which method kinda makes sense, ask other people on the spectrum, figure out a way that makes most sense & there'll be less fustration & unnecessary work on charts&steps?
posted by bindr at 12:29 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Maybe not specific enough but I start with these rules/steps for decluttering/cleaning:

-throw away/recycle anything that is garbage/recycling and just taking up space
-put things away (food goes back in fridge/cupboards, clothing gets returned to dresser/hangers, books go back on shelves, dishes go in sink or dishwasher etc.)
-anything left on surfaces? Stick it in a bin or box out of the way if you really don't know what to do with it unless it's something like a remote that lives on a surface
-clean surfaces: spray and wipe down counters/tables, sweep/vaccuum floor

I find putting things away right after I use them whenever possible really key for staying organized, it is harder to stick with when there are executive function issues but the habits can be developed.

I have also found books to be helpful for learning how to clean. Martha Stewart has free checklists online.
posted by lafemma at 12:41 PM on September 16, 2019

This isn't a chart or set of steps per se but one of the biggest problems I have with chores (as someone who is probably, but not diagnosed as, autistic) is having to go to multiple areas to complete a chore. E.g. if there is no recycling bin by my desk, I guarantee my desk will end up covered in recycling. So one thing I'd recommend is making sure that there are trash/recycling bins, sponges, cleaning spray, laundry baskets, and paper towels/wipes in every area she needs to clean.

The extension of this is that if there's one particular item or area that is always messy, I always put a bin/box/folder for that item exactly where the mess is, e.g. if food scraps keep piling up on the end table next to the couch then there should be a (lidded!) trash can under the end table.
posted by capricorn at 1:04 PM on September 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

You might want to look at guides for people with ADD and/or executive dysfunction. I used those guides to create a weekly rotation for myself years ago that was (is) really helpful. This sounds juvenile but the first step was that I created a chart of the days of the week with a drawing of each day's chore on its assigned day, and posted that chart in a spot I saw every day. The visual cue was important.

Routines are really great, much easier to follow than instruction lists because they require no thought once they're muscle memory. So I'd focus on creating those (and cues to trigger the routines) rather than creating instruction lists. Cues I use are the calendar (if it's Wednesday, I should... or if it's the 1st of the month I should...), daily things I do automatically like eat dinner or take a shower, lights on a timer, etc. Also, maybe just try to settle into one or perhaps two routines at a time. Rome wasn't built in a day.

I use the same after-dinner kitchen routine every day that I eat at home: unpack clean dishwasher, put dirty dishes in dishwasher, clean off and wipe down counters, mop floor, take out trash, start dishwasher.

I also use the same bathroom cleaning routine every week: scrub toilet bowl with disposable scrubber, wipe toilet down with Lysol wipes, restock hand soap, scrub sink with Comet, mop floor with Swiffer mop, wipe mirror and anything metal with a Windex wipe, sprinkle Comet in the shower, get undressed and into the shower, scrub and bathe. Aside from the mop, which lives in the kitchen, all those cleaning supplies live under the bathroom sink and I receive them via automated Amazon subscription.

For frame of reference, I always do the car wash/gas on Saturdays, laundry (including sheets and towels) and groceries on Sundays, bathrooms on Mondays, etc. That's the stuff that goes on the visual chore chart. If a chore doesn't happen one week I just skip until the next week. I also try to limit the number of chores per day to one or maybe two because otherwise it becomes a real drag and I just skip all of it and get off track.

I'm not naturally a routine-loving person, but as long as you limit each day's work to something that can be done reasonably quickly and mindlessly (10-30 minutes per chore) you honestly kind of forget that your schedule is so regimented because it just becomes second-nature.

Anyhow, my main thought is to look at tools and methods for people with other kinds of executive function difficulties, too, not just autism, because the tools and methods are pretty universally useful. Personally, I started using them during a really difficult depressive episode, but I more or less still keep them up even years later because they've been so helpful.
posted by rue72 at 1:21 PM on September 16, 2019 [7 favorites]

If you are looking for something more background I would recommend a book called 'living well on the spectrum'. Its not about cleaning but goes into some ways autistic people interact with the world differently, especially in four areas, thinking differences, social differences, emotional differences and sensory and movement differences and how these differences can effect different areas of life including the home.

It has different worksheets you can fill out to think about how to overcome obstacles for instance with executive function tasks. I suggest this because I think theres potentially lots of facets to cleaning that might not be obvious. For instance thinking about executive planning or sensory issues.
posted by mosswinter at 1:22 PM on September 16, 2019

Not everyone learns very well from a disembodied list. Most people who do these things regularly because someone taught them how to do it by standing there and saying ok now we have put the milk in the pan and now the milk goes back in the fridge. We're done with this box and now it goes in the trash. Notice how I'm picking up all the mugs off the couch and putting them in the sink so I can do the dishes later. If both parties are open to this it might help.
posted by bleep at 1:23 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Flylady has a whole website full of advice for this exact situation, it's very gentle and kind and routine-based and designed to be non overwhelming.

I have to say that the website design itself I find fully overwhelming, but the content is worth it IMO.
posted by quacks like a duck at 1:47 PM on September 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Once you identify areas to target, I would help them make sure they have supplies in the right area, even if you have to buy doubles of some things. It's way easier to clean the bathroom when all the cleaning supplies are under the sink, for example.
posted by radioamy at 3:16 PM on September 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

From your question, I’m not sure what the current state of the person’s living space is. Example steps that you give would be great for maintaining an already-clean space, but sweeping steps like “throw away all trash” are less helpful for major cleaning because the task is larger and becomes overwhelming. You may want to check with your friend and see if they need in-person support and/or micro-lists to clean and tidy a messy/dirty space before getting into a daily tidying routine.
posted by epj at 6:08 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

You might want to look at guides for people with ADD and/or executive dysfunction. I used those guides to create a weekly rotation for myself years ago that was (is) really helpful. This sounds juvenile but the first step was that I created a chart of the days of the week with a drawing of each day's chore on its assigned day, and posted that chart in a spot I saw every day. The visual cue was important.


Work on one skill at a time until it is mastered.

Work on the skill every day.

Add another, slightly more complex skill.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I worked with a teen on the spectrum who needed help with cleaning. One really effective strategy was placing dots of removable painter's tape on a table to help him dust correctly (i.e. he had to connect all the dots to get the whole table, in a zigzag like this:

* * * * *

* * * * *

This way, he wouldn't just do one swipe from top to bottom and call it a day. He'd actually have to connect all the dots to dust the entire table.
posted by onecircleaday at 10:11 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was never taught how to clean, my mom's a hoarder, I'm likely on the spectrum but not diagnosed, and the broad rules are what have helped me the most along with reading about how to clean different things well, everyone is different though.

This may be more for decluttering than cleaning, but my mind can see so many specifics of the different items in my home that I get overwhelmed because when I hold an item I can think of many potential uses for it (so it's rarely categorized as junk), and I get plain tired out after spending time sorting through clutter, but questions like "do I use this?", "is this it's home?", "is this something I can throw out?" help reduce the overwhelm, and the steps I use to clean up a space (upthread) have enabled me to maintain a fairly clean and pleasant home even though my partner has ADHD and is terrible at putting things away and "seeing" clutter. So for me being broad and just erring on the side of "no it doesn't go here, and yes I can throw it out/donate it" helps me from a decluttering perspective.

From a cleaning perspective I keep a caddy of supplies: a spray bottle of soapy water, a spray bottle of vinegar, microfibre and cotton cleaning cloths in the kitchen, bathroom, and living room and I just clear and wipe down surfaces every other day or so. I sweep whenever I look and see crumbs or dirt or pet hair on the floor which is almost daily. The idea of "surfaces clear" is what helps me the most.

I agree if someone has a level of built up junk in their home that they may need someone with them to start from a cleaner slate. If the roommate is struggling with this person cluttering surfaces perhaps they can agree to clearing things together for a 5-10 minutes a day or this person can consent to the roommate putting their items in a plastic bin when needed to reduce resentment, that's what I do with my partner when I don't want to be responsible for putting his things away but accept that he is too distracted or unavailable to deal with his stuff and I know it will bother me to see it in that time.
posted by lafemma at 7:43 AM on September 17, 2019

I came in to suggest flylady (mentioned earlier) also. Don't be put off by the dorky looking website. Flylady is exactly what you're looking for.
posted by selfmedicating at 2:16 PM on September 17, 2019

« Older Friend suddenly distant and short with me, how to...   |   Help me find the right Android messaging app Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments