Tag Archives: rewards

How to Motivate an Autistic Teen

The title of this post is one of the more common search phrases people use to find this website. And since it’s a topic that I deal with on a daily basis, I decided to describe my approach.

Motivation is either extrinsic (“coming from without”) or intrinsic (“coming from within”).  Both involve what the person in question perceives as rewards, either tangible (extrinsic motivation) or intangible (intrinsic motivation). Depending on your child’s emotional age, they will start off with extrinsic motivation and, as they mature, they will start responding to intrinsic motivation. It’s just been in the past year or two that I’ve been able to cultivate Nigel’s intrinsic motivation, but he still relies heavily on extrinsic.

*Extrinsic Motivation (Tangible Rewards):

A. Time doing what they love:

  • Watching movies/videos
  • Playing video games
  • Computer time
  • Going to a favorite museum or other place of interest
  • Bike-riding, hiking, or other physical activity they enjoy
  • Go-karting, bowling, or other activity
  •  Going to the library
  • Inviting a friend for a sleepover

B. Things they can earn:

  • Allowance
  • Buying a new book, toy, or model to put together
  • Renting a video game or DVD

C. Consequences (the other side of the reward coin):

If they don’t do what they need to be motivated to do, **they lose time allotted for doing what they enjoy, and/or they lose the privilege of earning things that they want.

Intrinsic Motivation (Intangible Rewards):

A. Personal Achievement:

  • Finding things that were lost (e.g. during room cleaning – this is also an extrinsic reward)
  • Contributing to the family/household

B. Helping People:

  • Habitat for Humanity Walk
  • Scouting for Food

Nigel is learning the rewards of intrinsic motivation by being involved in the aforementioned causes. I also use one of his regular chores, cleaning out the cat litter, as an intrinsic motivator: he is helping someone who can’t do something themselves and in doing so, gains their love and loyalty. He is also contributing to the family and household by helping out, and he is learning that a sense of community is its own reward.

**Example of losing time allotted for doing what they enjoy:

Nigel has a hard time getting up in the morning. I offer him the extrinsic motivation of warmth, either through a warm blanket (fresh out of the dryer) to wrap himself in, or a warm breakfast or drink. If that is not motivating enough, for every 5 minutes that he continues to stay in bed, I deduct 10 minutes off of his computer time for the day. As far as intrinsic motivation, I could tell him that getting out of bed on time would yield the satisfaction of a productive day. But he’s definitely not there yet on that one.

*Remember: The only way that extrinsic motivation will work is to follow through with both rewards and consequences. Consistency is key!

Note: When Nigel was younger and non-verbal, I used a system of visual cues to help schedule and motivate him. Holly at Fearless Females has written a post outlining the visual system she uses with her non-verbal autistic daughter that helps to motivate her to do things. It’s a great “companion” post to this one.

3 Steps to Ending Chore Wars

As the eldest of four children, I had a lot of household chores and responsibilities while growing up. I didn’t like it, of course, but I did what was expected of me. I had read stories about kids growing up in the country having many more chores than I, so I figured my lot wasn’t so bad.

Nigel sees it differently. He balks at the few chores I have him do, complaining about slave labor and communism. “Cleaning rooms is for nerds,” he says. Cajoling, begging, and trying to reason with him (“Everyone has responsibilities,” I say) is usually unsuccessful. So I came up with a plan:

1) Create a chart – a visible reference, like the schedules used in his early intervention classes. It lists what he does when, each day. It has spaces for star stickers or checkmarks to indicate when chores are completed.

2) Offer rewards – positive reinforcement for completing chores. He’s a teen, so it has to be something that will really motivate him. Two things he loves the most: renting movies and having friends spend the night. So when he receives a certain number of star stickers, he can rent a movie or have a sleepover.

3) Withdraw privileges – negative consequences for not completing chores. Two things he would miss: watching movies in his room every day and having computer time. For each day a chore is not completed, he will lose time doing what he enjoys.

This is an experiment – I’ll report back with how it goes! Unlike communism, I think it will work.