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How to Motivate Kids With Autism

7 Tips For Motivating Kids on the Autism Spectrum

The following post was originally featured on We Know Stuff and written by Julie Clark, who is part of POPSUGAR Collective.

Fairness is very important to them, as well as understanding why we do what we do, so remember that they do best with clear cut rules and expectations.

Have you ever chosen to do something you really didn't want to do? Have you ever had to "take one for the team?" There are times in life we all need to do this, and this act is something we typically learn during childhood.

For those on the Autism Spectrum, this lesson can be a little more challenging to take to heart. One of the hallmarks of autism is the difficulty in standing in someone else's shoes, so to speak. On a family level, this can manifest as not wanting to take turns choosing different activities. It can mean having a meltdown in the middle of a vacation when we're smack in the middle of a mini golf course and he would rather be in the pool, or refusing to eat anything for dinner if the "wrong" restaurant is picked. So, how do we motivate these kids to participate in activities that are not of their choosing? How do we help them control their disappointment, which often is often manifested in verbal frustration, anger, and tears?

And, let's be real. As parents and siblings, it can also be difficult when anyone makes it hard to enjoy something you've been looking forward to. It's only human to feel a sense of sadness, loss, of being "held captive" to the person who seems only content to do what they want to do. As parents, we can be at our wits' end. (In fairness, isn't this true of anyone who acts this way, Autism Spectrum or not?)

For these kids, it can be hard seeing the bigger picture. It is our responsibility as parents to help them do just that. Keep in mind telling a child on the Autism Spectrum to "put yourself in your sister's place" isn't going to work. It's a very abstract concept and not how they think. However, there are things we can do to work toward more harmonious excursions.

Remember, those on the Autism Spectrum do best with clear cut rules and expectations. Fairness is very important to them, as well as understanding why we do what we do. In other words, unlike with many neurotypical kids, explanations really do work a lot of the time for motivating kids with ASD. Many really do want to understand why we make the choices we do (even if they disagree with them). Here are a few things to try and consider before your next outing.

7 Tips for Motivating Kids on the Autism Spectrum

  1. Explain why you need to go somewhere. If you are going somewhere that your child is less than thrilled about, explain to him why you are going there, and remind him you also go places he likes. Reassure him that you will go somewhere special to him another time (and be sure to keep that promise).
  2. Be kind but firm in your expectations of his behavior. It's OK to be specific about what is and is not acceptable, but be very, very careful about crossing the line between a parenting moment and insulting him. No one likes to be chastised, especially when a transgression hasn't even occurred yet. Never threaten.
  3. Consider using a reward system to encourage him to cooperate. (If there are siblings involved, it's not a bad idea to include them on this, too.) These kids respond very well when they clearly understand what's in it for them.
  4. Consider using "if, then" statements. For example, "If you can get through the mini golf course with a positive attitude, then we will all get ice cream afterward."
  5. Understand why your child is objecting to the outing. If your child is sensory avoiding and you are going to a jam-packed festival, there is an incredibly high chance he will be overwhelmed, and understandably so. Respect the way he interprets the world, and definitely stretch him, and help him navigate it, but do not put him in over his head.
  6. Don't take it personally. Keep your cool. Demonstrate strength through a calm exterior. Your kids are watching and will learn from your example.
  7. Reach out to others who can truly help you and your child. This is where your school or a trusted therapist is worth his weight in gold. Ask them for tools to use and try them. Sometimes, like it or not, our kids respond better to someone other than mom and dad. *sigh*

Keep in mind that change doesn't usually happen overnight. Our daughter still protests when we do something she is less than thrilled about. However, as she is older, she is now able to verbalize why she doesn't want to do whatever it is. Many times, it comes back to SPD or anxiety, but sometimes, it's just being self-focused (something we are all guilty of from time to time, right?). A little patience and perseverance over the long haul really do go a long way!

Want to read more articles about children with Autism and SPD?

Image Source: We Know Stuff
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