On Laundry and Learned Helplessness 1

Around his 11 birthday (+/-1) Robert began helping with  household chores.  He folded laundry and  put away dishes.  At first, he was only assisting me.  Later, he took over and didn’t allow me to help him. Whenever I tried to join him, he directed me to the computer desk,  ordered me to sit behind it and not interfere with his work.  He repeated, “Robert, Robert” to make sure I understood that all the work was his to do. I tried to leave something for him to do every day. When he worked, I didn’t have to watch him. He was busy, focused, and didn’t do anything inappropriate.  When he didn’t work, he had to be observed closely.

Around that time he started doing laundry at home. He put dirty clothes in a washing machine, pour a cup of a detergent, turned the machine on, switched the clothes to the drier, set the drier on, and took clothes out.


1.He didn’t separate whites from colored or even black clothes.

2. He always put ALL the dirty clothes from a hamper or two into the machine.

3.When the washing machine stopped mid-circle because of the imbalance , Robert took dripping clothes out and placed them in the drier.

I had to intervene.    Whenever I heard the washing machine being turned on I ran to the laundry room, removed all the clothes (wet already), and told Robert to separate white and not white. Except he didn’t quite comprehend “not-white” and seemed to respond  only to the “white” part of the “not-white” phrase.  He made many mistakes I corrected.   Robert didn’t say anything, allowed me to correct him, but as soon as I left, he added all the remaining clothes to the washing machine.  This chain of events repeated itself a few times.   I always demanded that he separates whites and not whites. He always had problems  with that request.  I always stopped him from overloading, he always overloaded later. He didn’t protest, but as soon as he saw me disappearing behind the corner of a staircase, he returned to the laundry room and tried to “fix”  the laundry the way he considered it fitting.

Then one day he stopped putting clothes in the washing machine.

He continues to take dirty clothes to the laundry room.  He tells me to do laundry (“Laundry, laundry”) when his drawers get empty.  He still switches laundry from the washing machine to the drier.He still takes laundry out and folds it.

But for the last eight years, he has never turned on a washing machine.  Never.

With all my corrections, explanations, and instructions I convinced him that he was not able to  wash clothes.

And he believed me.

Could I do anything differently? Of course.  I could have prepared just one load of laundry for him to do each day, so he wouldn’t be able  to overload.  I could later add one or two differently colored items to the hamper, show them to Robert as standing out, and take them out with me upon leaving Robert in the laundry room to ” independently” initiate washing .

I wonder why I didn’t?

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1 Comment

  1. jaamy142

     /  April 20, 2012

    Not too late to try this new approach now. It looks to me that Robert decided “you don’t like how I do it – do it yourself!” He will start doing it again, I am sure!


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