How do I Help Motivate my Child to Complete Tasks Without Meltdowns?

Disovering and setting motivational options is one idea to consider.

What motivates you? What motivates most people who hold a full time job? Ahhhh… The end of the day when they can play? the paycheck at the end of a work cycle?  What might motivate your child?  What do they enjoy? What do they prefer? Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) usually prefer items, or parts of items, that seem unusual or idiosyncratic, to you and I. What idiosyncratic interests does your child have? Use them to motivate your young one!

You might want to consider motivating your child by introducing the FIRST -THEN concept, a great starting place!  Do this FIRST, THEN you can have your favorite item or preferred activity for three minutes. Three minutes is just a random number, depending on your child’s level of interest and attention to the  preferred item, you can be the judge of how long, you know your child best. Be mindful that your child’s interests or preferred items may change from time to time and some items may have a stronger draw than others.

The FIRST, THEN routine needs to be in a visual format that your child clearly assigns meaning to. It could be a picture , a photo, an object, or a word, that represents the task and another icon that represents the item or activity that will provide the motivation.

I had the pleasure of encountering a young preschool non-verbal boy who came into the classroom screaming every morning and ran to the table to put together a very colorful wooden ring puzzle before taking his backpack and coat off. We (the teacher, the parent, and I) decided to provide the boy with a photo of his backpack and coat on the coat rack and a photo of his preferred wooden ring puzzle at the table. It was put together in a FIRST-THEN sequence on one lightweight strip of plastic.

Every morning for two weeks the teacher greeted him at the bus and handed him the first then photos and FIRST walked with  him to the coat rack, THEN to the table where the wooden puzzle ring was. After a few days the screaming stopped.

The beginning of the third week he was able to carry the FIRST-THEN routine card independent of the teacher or other adult staff and transition quietly into the classroom and start his day. The next photos built into the routine were NEXT wash hands THEN eat breakfast (food- another motivator for this young man). When the child learns specific pieces to the routine, the card may be faded out, leaving the  larger pieces as potential schedule components. For example, the child will learn to wash hands before eating and may no longer need the photo as a visual cue or prompt to wash his hands before eating.

A young girl I work with likes to wave thin strip of paper in front of her face. To get her to work I give her a FIRST-THEN card that has a picture of FIRST work the card – THEN a photo of a  lengthy paper strip. She is quite comfortable and compliant working when I lay the paper strip to the right of her work on the table. When she completes the work she takes the work picture off and takes the photo of the paper strip and hands it to me to access the strip of paper. The goal is to gradually build a work routine of several tasks with a reward/reinforcement built in at the end of the task, that she can complete independent of the support and dependency of an adult.

Sometimes the reinforcement or rewards are intrinsic and other times they are extrinsic.  They may change, the time alloted to spend with the item may decrease, and they may gradually get faded out only to be replaced by something different. I have to ask though, does your employer fade out your paycheck? and if they did would you continue working?

About Mary

Hi! I have been providing services for children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, ages 3 through age 27, for twenty years. I also teach teachers and other professionals strategies and interventions to improve and develop communication skills, social understanding skills, and replacement of stereotypical behaviors. I try to create an awareness and empathic response with professionals working with families and caregivers living with the unique differences and challenges of ASD. My other goals include educating the public about ASD. ASD is a label that provides a common ground for discussing treatment, strategies, and other interventions to help the child or person. The label is not the child and vice-versa. Over the years I have observed many children develop communication skills, experience social success, and decrease and change stereotypical behavior into productivity. The children I work with are unique and wonderous. Like you and I they have specific interests and strengths that are valuable assets to their Quality of Life.
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