To tie or not to tie?

At the end of last school year we added a shoe tying goal to my son’s education plan.  It seemed like a logical step in his skill building, so I jumped on board when his occupational therapist brought it up in our IEP meeting.  I promised to buy him a pair of lace-ups.

Somewhere in the back of my mind there was a tiny voice screaming “no,”  but I didn‘t listen.  How could there be a reason not to work with him on this?  I bought him the new shoes, even let him pick them out, and on the first day of school I happily tied them myself.  I was even kind of excited about the new thing he would soon learn to do.

Well, I can’t take it anymore.  I miss the Velcro shoes and the independence they afforded us both.  They were easy on and easy off and he could do it himself.  He could dress alone from head to toe with that Velcro.  He was independent then and now he’s not.

With the Velcro, I could tell him to get his shoes on and he could do it.  He could get ready to leave while I finished making his lunch.  He could take his shoes on and off whenever he pleased and experience no frustration, no defeat and no delay in the process.  It was heavenly.  I miss that.  We miss that.

With these darned lace-ups he is totally dependent on me for getting his shoes on as well as tied.  They don’t feel the same and he can’t seem to get his foot inside them without crushing the heal and sinking the tongue.  Lace-ups are just constructed differently from the Velcro shoes.  Frankly, they suck for kids on the autism spectrum.

Despite our endless efforts to teach him, my son is difficult to engage in the steps of tying the laces.  He just wants his shoes on and when he can’t get that to happen by himself he starts to get frustrated and then we have to fix that too.

It’s even worse if I help him to do it.  I stoop to get the shoes on him and by the time he finally cooperates, my knee has given out.  I have to stand up and stretch my leg before I can stoop back down to help him tie.  If you have a child on the spectrum, you know that’s just enough time to completely lose him from the task.

If I manage to reengage him at all and he actually points his feet toward me and holds them still long enough for me to show him the first loop, he inevitably will wiggle and lose his balance, grabbing the top of my head to steady himself.

Several times a week I have to run back upstairs when we’re already late, just so I can yank my hair out of the elastic and clip, brush it out and start again.  All this, simply because my son has accidentally pulled half of my hair apart while I’m tying his shoes.  It’s maddening.

What am I to do?  I am faced with a choice between expanding his skill set or expanding his upset.  I want to teach him to tie the shoes.  I really, really do.  It’s an essential life skill and I want him to learn it.  Unfortunately, it is one of those things that I sort of resent myself for making us do right now.

I’m wondering if I should put it off and try again in a couple of months.  Am I a horrible mom for wanting to do the easier thing instead of the important, but more challenging thing?  Is it okay to postpone that part of his education and to focus instead on the things he’s really ready to do?  Maybe it is okay.

My son is learning so much right now and I am sharing in his triumphs.  Yesterday, it was simple subtraction using only his fingers.  When he finally understood how to do it, his face lit up with a huge proud grin and he tore through the rest of the problems like he’d been doing them all his life.  I am so happy I got to see that.

Our mornings are nuts.  It’s hard to get him out of bed.  It’s hard to get him dressed and fed and out the door.  I just don’t want to deal with those stupid laces.  I don’t think he does either.  Not now anyway.  Soon, but not now.  What do you think?

12 thoughts on “To tie or not to tie?

  1. Skip the shoe tying. It’s not as much of an essential life skill as it used to be. On the other hand, if you want to teach him to tie, sit on the floor or bed with his back to you & his feet out in front – then reach around him and show him the steps. He’ll see it from the right perspective that way.
    But I’m sticking to my original advice: eliminate stressful non-essentials.

  2. Becky……….I just have to leave this message for you……….. You have a 7 year old (autistic) son………I have a 7 year old (non-autistic) son………..I still tie my sons shoes…..he really has only half-heartedly tried to tie his shoes at this point……I’m not sure if that is because I have babied him or what……but…….. he really has litle interest…..he kinda tries, but wants me to finish………same with his 2-wheeler……….. he is so very different than I was at his age……….I have decided not to push the issue(s)……I am pretty sure that he will not go into middle school not knowing how to tie his shoes, or ride a 2-wheeler………..

  3. How about waiting for a school break? Remove the morning pressure and make it a learning project while the time constraints of school are gone.

  4. Lose the shoe tying goal. The independence it afforded you and your guy is worth way more than the frustration. There are some things that are worth the challenge. This, in the big picture, isn’t. I like your idea of revisiting it in a few months. Definitely.

  5. Pingback: Honest Opinions, Please… « bockychoy

  6. Becky, I am with Pam. Cale is 8 now and I still have to tie his shoes for him every morning. He’s really not interested in learning and, selfishly, I would rather just do it and get out the door on time. I don’t think the frustration is worth it right now! 🙂 Hang in there—wish I could give you a big hug!

  7. The shoe tying skill doesn’t have to be developed and honed in the morning! It can be developed after school during play time, or he and Dad can work on it in the evenings or along with other enrichment-type activities. Once he is close to mastering it, then introduce it on the busy school mornings —but only when things are going smoothly.

  8. Hi Becky,
    My 10 year old still wears the velcro. I have bought him a book that has a front cover that you can practice shoe tying with. Why torture both of you when there are the tools to use while it’s not so hectic.

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