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.