Motivation and autism

by Jennifer Dyer

We have issues. Who doesn’t? I struggle with motivating our autistic daughter, especially when it comes to getting out of bed and into the car. I’ve tried begging, pleading, crying, dragging, whining, sneaking up on her, carrying her to the car in her sleep, wrestling, and enticing with food. None of it worked. “Your sister will be tardy,” doesn’t work either. So, I resigned myself to dismal mornings filled with stress.

A few weeks ago I attended a conference by taught by Tamara Kasper who spoke on using ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) techniques to motivate a child with autism to speak. (As we live in the RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) world, ABA is a bit foreign to our family.)

Before it started, I wondered if Tamara Kasper would focus on little drills to help children learn to speak in small steps, which is what I had understood about ABA. Yes, there was some of that, but the main point is finding ways to motivate children with autism and the proper way to use those motivating factors.

First, what does the child like to do? This question stumped me at first. I thought there was no way to motivate Rachel. We have bought almost every toy you could imagine and still were no closer to helping her engage with us. But when Ms. Kasper mentioned that one of the kids she had worked with liked to hug an empty gas can, I thought, “Oh, that kind of thing.”

In that case, Rachel likes vacuum cords, the vacuum hose, one Laurie Berkner video, and toys that squish. Usually. She also likes to swing, but only when she is in the mood. She takes my iPhone earbuds and flips them around, and found a rainbow-colored jump-rope at gymnastics that she loved. She often rotates what she likes, but I had a starting point.

So, now what?

What I gathered from Ms. Kasper was to start small. Work those motivating toys into activities, such as getting a child to name a picture on a card, but make certain you only use the motivators when you are working on the desired behavior. Put them away otherwise.

So, I thought about our car-in-the-morning issue. I bought the same rainbow jump-rope Rachel had seen at gymnastics and hid it. The next morning, I pulled the jumprope from my hiding spot and took it into Rachel. I held it out and told her she could have it in the car. She reached for it, but I pulled it back just out of her reach. She followed it down the stairs; once she got into the car I handed it to her. I let her have it until she got to school, then I hid it once she was in her classroom. The next morning I did the same, and it worked!

My plan this week is to expand upon the getting-up routine. Before she can have the jump-rope, I will have her brush her hair and get into the car. Once she is successful at that, I will add tooth brushing. Her speech therapist at school showed me a motivating board to use with this, so once I make it I will take a picture and post it. I also plan to incorporate more motivating toys.

We’ll see…

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0 thoughts on “Motivation and autism

  1. What a courageous, loving mom you are!! You are such a great example of how to show God’s love to children who have serious challenges in life. Your stories are a great source of comfort and encouragement!

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