Paul’s Home Scrum story with his son Charlie
One example of successful use of Home Scrum with a child comes from my friend and colleague, Paul. He has young twin sons, Evan and Charlie. Charlie has autism, and struggles a lot with change. When he was younger, even the slightest change to routine—such as needing to drive down a different road to get to his grandma’s house—would set off a meltdown.
Paul wrote a moving account in his original blog post, but I got him to tell me a little more about how he approached the idea with Charlie in the first place:
“It was surprisingly rather easy. My pitch was that it was a way to help him know exactly what was going to happen and when, but to also give him some control over the order of some of the tasks, which ‘I know you will really like and it will hopefully stop you worrying.’ He was very receptive to the idea. I just asked him to help make it work and told him that this would be his to own.
“We spoke about how certain things had to happen at certain times of the day (brushing teeth, getting dressed for school, etc.), but that we would let him decide the order. That alone was of huge appeal to him, but that, married up with an incentive for completing everything, made it rather easy to get him on board. He was only five so still relatively easy to influence (despite his obvious challenges).”
One of the incentives Paul mentions took the ingenious form of adding pieces of a larger picture on the back of each card. So on the front of each ticket were pictures of daily tasks, such as brushing teeth. On the back, all the tasks could be combined to create a picture: in Charlie’s case, one of these was Big Ben, since that was a special interest of his at the time. This gave Charlie an excellent reason to make sure all his tasks moved over to ‘Done’, so that he could ensure his picture would be complete. Of course, each picture only had a limited appeal for completing it, so Paul was regularly designing and printing new ones, which as you can imagine was a labour-intensive exercise. But Paul is an incredibly dedicated dad and at the time this was the level of help that Charlie needed to help him engage with Home Scrum.
Over time, Paul introduced more uncertainty through a ‘question mark’ task. Through physically manipulating the tasks on his board, Charlie became better at accepting new orders of events, and even unexpected changes. Paul and his wife knew they had made a breakthrough when they had to detour around roadworks to get to the twins’ grandma’s house, and Charlie simply asked what was happening and then accepted the answer without distress.
The Scrum board was just for Charlie, so I asked Paul how Charlie’s brother Evan felt about it.
“Charlie looks to Evan as the leader. Evan has also taken it upon himself to lead, so he didn’t actually want to follow the same path; rather, he wanted to help his brother on his. This was something we leaned on too.
“We talked to Evan about how we hoped this approach would help Charlie with his worries and when Charlie sometimes got very upset. We asked Evan if he would sometimes help Charlie plan his day, which they both really enjoyed. We also discussed with Evan how important it was that he kept demonstrating that there is a way to do things without the need for the board. So, Evan took it upon himself to demonstrate really owning things like getting himself dressed. We praised and rewarded this separately as you can’t just take things like that for granted.
“Aiming to one day give up the board is perhaps slightly controversial, but we didn’t want to give Charlie the impression that he will always need this. Instead we wanted to suggest that this approach would hopefully help him to adapt to a time when he didn’t need it. We are pretty much at that point now! Evan was incredibly supportive throughout, and Charlie loved the board and all it offered, the rewards, pictures, less stress and so on, but always with an eye on his brother and aiming to follow suit. Now we have them racing to see who can get dressed first or put the toys away first.”