Operation: Button your pants continues

Time slips through our fingers. It has been almost 3 months since we began Operation: Button Your Pants! To refresh your memory regarding our special challenge to teach our 17 year-old son how to button his pants, you can read about it here: http://www.womangonewise.com/2012/01/30/operation-button-your-pants/.

Because the days do pass so quickly, I am more deliberate in setting practical goals for our growing young man. Teaching a new skill to a child with physical or developmental challenges requires breaking the skill into small steps. Each step is carefully approached with patience. The time it takes to acquire the step is not as important as keeping each goal in mind.

I am happy to say A.J. has passed each of these first steps:

Operation: Button your Pants

  • Work on pincer skills by playing “Feed the Dog” every day. Celebrate every attempt!                   Check!
  • Breakdown the steps to buttoning. Practice one step every day. Celebrate every attempt!         Check!
  • Progressively practice smaller button holes.           Check!
  • Practice on a pair of pants.           Check!

What a surprise to see A.J. enjoying the process so much. He is so pleased with his new accomplishments that he initiates the “Feed the Dog” game and button cards. Without any prompts from us, he practices daily.

The Motivating Factors

Personal pride for his accomplishments is not his only motivating factor for working on the buttons. I have to admit, he has become a little sneaky.

He knows he cannot access gummy treats whenever he wants, so he has learned to zip through his button games and exercises and go directly to the treat cupboard to get his gummies–multiple times a day! It took me a couple of weeks to catch on to my sly boy. I guess that means he has trained Mom pretty well.

I was not thrilled with the notion of introducing sweet snacks as a reward, but the fact is treats are highly motivating. When a skill needs to be taught to a highly frustrated or stubborn individual, I tell you, a reward that works is worth it!  But, because the new skill  became so easy, its time to create the next step of challenges toward buttoning his own pants.  This means he will have to really work for those gummies again!

A.J. Hits a Roadblock

Whenever I have the opportunity to interface with Occupational Therapists or Behavior Management Consultants, I tap their brains for any resources they have for teaching pant buttoning. One of the most important tidbits of advise I received was to place a pair of pants on his lap as though they were on his body. This way he will not learn the button skill backwards!  Backwards buttoning had never crossed my mind.

I found the largest and oldest (softest) pair of jeans in my husband’s closet and placed them on A.J.’s lap. First I sat behind him on the floor and placed my hands on his hands, trying to guide the button through the hole. That did not work well.

A.J. had his own idea to  place his hands on my hands as I slipped the button through the hole.  That was a good idea, because he could feel the way my wrists turned and how fingers have to move behind and beside and in front of the button.  Did you realize you move your fingers and wrist that much when you button your pants?!

Finally, I sat beside him as he attempted to slip the metal button through the stiff little hole. Frustration mounted. He grunted and motioned for me to help. I kept my hands away but sat closely to encourage his efforts. He must wonder why this button will  not cooperate as easily as the buttons he has been practicing on.

Disappointment set in for both of us. Eventually, I placed my hands on the waistband, giving him a sense of support. A week or so went by without any success.  Both of us have ignored those jeans lately. Feeling a little defeated myself, I have not taken any further steps toward getting those jeans buttoned.

I have my finger and hand issues due to arthritis and am aware of adaptive tools for everyday tasks. After a little online research, I discovered a handy tool to help with buttoning pants. I stared at the picture and considered what it would mean for A.J. on a daily basis. Not only would he have to carry the tool on his person daily, but it would be very difficult to get him motivated to button his own pants after using the tool. Any adaptive tools at this point will be our last resort.

Give him every opportunity to excel

Our philosophy since his infancy has been to give him every opportunity to excel, and then let him show us what he can do. If I resort to the tool so soon, I would be cutting the process short.  Through his willingness to continue buttoning  he is still showing us a desire to develop.

So, I called on the school Occupational Therapist. She agreed it is best to stay away from the adaptive tool at this time. She suggested cutting into the buttonhole–a little skill I know about from my earliest days of learning to sew. Then I got the idea to cut up the waistbands from a few pair of old jeans and make a new button board. This will be my project for the week.

Operation: Button your pants–Step 2

  • Create a button board made from jeans.
  • Clearly mark the Top of the board to be closest to the body.
  • Practice short amounts of time to limit frustration. Celebrate every attempt.
  • Do not give gummies until at least 3 attempts are made on the denim board. Celebrate attempts!
  • Practice every day.

Cross your fingers!  Well, that would mean I believe in luck. I don’t. Through prayer and hard work we will keep taking steps towards success!  I will let you know how it goes.


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Operation: Button your pants

It is easy to take certain developmental milestones for granted when you have typically developed children. I never had to teach my second and third child how to use their pincer grasp. I may have tilted their wrist a time or two when teaching them how to use their knives correctly, but they were able to grasp the knife and complete the task successfully on their own. I know I never had to teach them how to button.

Things are different with a child who has low-muscle tone issues. Knife work, shoe-tying and slipping buttons through tight little holes are skills our 17-year-old son does not yet have. With ten stubby fingers and limited dexterity, A.J. has weak fine motor skills. I confess we haven’t required a lot of detailed work from those stubby fingers. Instead, we have spent the last 17 years working largely on speech acquisition, writing and reading skills, behavior management and social skills.

I began teaching A.J. how to read as soon as he could sit up. I consumed every book I could find on the subject of teaching children with Down’s Syndrome how to read. He learned to spell both phonetically and by sight. A.J. presently reads at a third grade level and has a great interest in sounding out words and writing each day. His interest in words is exciting! But, teaching him how to button his pants, is a different story.

Thankfully, Land’s End has cargo pants, denim and khakis with elastic waist-bands. Land’s End receives an order from me twice each year. However, A.J. will soon grow out of their big boy pants and he will be left to wear sweats every day if we do not soon get this buttoning skill achieved.

Each year I request the Occupational Therapist at school to help him with his fine motor skills. He has received minimal assistance. We consider the ability to button his own pants a key independent living skill. So, it is time for me to get to work! Last week I purchased the fine motor game, “Feed the Dog”. It has a large pair of tweezers–just the right size for A.J. to try to manipulate without frustration. Whenever we attempt a new task, it is always helpful to find items with a Disney or dog theme: two of A.J.’s favorite interests. I also purchased a game board to practice large button skills. Now it is time to create a plan for our family to attempt together, “Operation: Button your Pants”.

Operation: Button your Pants

  • Work on pincer skills by playing “Feed the Dog” every day. Celebrate every attempt!
  • Breakdown the steps to buttoning. Practice one step every day. Celebrate every attempt!
  • Progressively practice smaller button holes.
  • Practice on a pair of pants.

Week One Success

Excited to see what I brought him, A.J. pulls the doggie game out of the bag. We placed 30 plastic bones in the doggie bowl, and I model the use of the tweezers. A.J. takes his turn, and is unable to pinch the tweezers closed. Frustrated, he grunts at me several times. I ignore the grunts, and he quickly ceases the resistant sounds. Placing my hand over his, I attempt to place his fingers in the proper formation for pinching. Quietly, I  grunt with my frustration! His fingers are confused. The two of us fumble with the tweezers until finally he is able to pinch them and pick up a bone.

Each step of the game (designed for 3-year-old children), is met with frustration. The game requires him to continue the pinch in order to get the bone to the doggie’s mouth. Then the tweezers have to turn just-so, in order to get the bone into the doggie’s mouth. Alas, he is able to do it. After 10 bones, I cheer and invite him to stop the game. He presses on.

Willingly, he opens the game and enjoys feeding the doggie the plastic bones each day. His pincer grasp is strengthening and he is enjoying the new skill!

Have you ever tried to break down the steps to placing a button in a button-hole? It is a long and challenging process! Operation: Button your Pants may take us some time. I’ll let you know how it progresses.

What skill comes after the ability to button his own jeans? I am afraid it will be teaching our young man how to shave. Oh boy, talk about a challenge!



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