must If I received a dollar every time a parent asked me how to motivate their autistic child, I’d have the cost of my meals covered every day. This has got to be one of the least understood and poorly addressed topics related to the autism culture--and though the answer is not a one-size-fits all, I'm going to give it a try.
Long story short?
If your child isn't 'motivated' to do something, they may have a negative association with the demand or skill. The task of the adults in the room is to make sure the gaps in skills or understanding are addressed with dignity, taught to mastery so that the child feels confident...and then we must go out of our way to match demands to the child's ability. Ta-da! In other words, often, a child 'won't' because they 'can't'--even when they have demonstrated the ability in the past. Confusing?
Let me explain.
Generally, repeated experiences create pathways in the brain connecting specific experiences or activities to specific thoughts, memories, or behaviour responses. In other words, our children build strong brain connections between the expectation placed on them, and the intense memory of how those expectations made them feel--emotionally and physically. In simple terms, all humans are motivated to do things that make us feel good about ourselves. or feel good while doing the activity--and are motivated to avoid things that make them feel not-so-good, physically or emotionally.
You may approach the bench:
Ask anyone who is raising a child with autism and they’ll tell you: man, can our kids negotiate!
And by negotiate, I mean tell you over and over again, in many different ways, what they want, why they should have it, and why you are wrong for keeping it from them.
It’s incredible, really. With no formal training and no prior knowledge, parents of children on the spectrum become experts on what will and will not work for their child. They know when a behavior issue is really a lack of understanding issue or a lack of appropriate support issue. They quickly learn to provide their child with extra help in so many areas of functioning, and to slow down the pace and delivery of teaching so that their child can be successful.
People with ASD often suffer the frustrating experience of being misunderstood. Others act hurt and offended by something they did when no offence was intended. The problem is, our children may get these reactions from people all day long. Communicating is like walking on a minefield--you never know when things are going to blow up in your face. The feeling of living on edge...of waiting to mess up...can cause tremendous anxiety, as can the angry, punitive responses they can elicit all day long.
The journey from feeling incompetent to confident as the parent of a child on the spectrum doesn’t need to be a long one. The sooner parents become familiar with important supports and effective approaches, the shorter your learning curve may be.
Here are my top tips.
Feel free to add yours in the comments.