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?

Posted in Communication, Social Understanding, Stereotypies and Sensory Processing, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Conserve Your Energy and Decrease Your Child’s Anxiety and Meltdowns

Does your child have a meltdown or seem riddled with anxiety when it is time to move on to the next activity? or when you change the sequence of events when running errands in the community? or when you decide to add an extra stop or take a different route to the grandparents house? You can help your child avoid meltdowns related to transitions occurring throughout the day.

Preparing your child for transitions takes only a few minutes of your time and decreases energy draining meltdowns and potentially injurious tantrums! Most children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrate heightened levels of anxiety before and during transition – for our purpose transition refers to change in activity or events.

Preparing your child for a transition or change requires making the next activity visible and predictable. Research indicates that the majority of children with autism exhibit strong visual learning styles and concrete thinking processes. Many children think in pictures and respond quicker to pictures and visual images than verbal directions or demands.

If your child is not a reader or an emerging reader, constructing meaning from pictures or photographs may be a more successful than attempting to decipher and construct meaning from a set of abstract lines and circles that make up the written language.

If your child exhibits echolalic speech, providing visual information can be readily understood and may be a useful tool to make the daily activities predictable.

Creating a visual activity schedule can support your child in moving calmly from one activity to the next throughout the day. Creating an activity schedule requires a visual format that your child understands or can easily learn, such as objects, photographs, pictures, or written words and a way to keep track of what is finished and what is next.

It is important to teach your child the meaning of the pictures and the use of the schedule. In the beginning you may want to start with two pictures, FIRST do this – THEN this. When the FIRST activity is completed teach your child “finished” and then help him/her remove it and place the schedule in a finished box or envelope style pocket. Then direct attention to the NEXT picture and repeat the removal of the card to the FINISHED box.

When the FIRST-THEN concept is mastered you can begin adding one new schedule card at a time. Remember, your child must assign meaning to the picture, object, or word. In time your child will be able to interact with the schedule without your assistance. Consistency in use is a prime key.

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Prevent an Embarrassing Public Meltdown and Help Your Child With Autism Feel Safe


We care about our children. At times we may feel helpless to understand the path of serious self injurious behavior (SIB) or screaming and yelling that draws unnecessary attention to our child and ourselves in public and often we become the recipients of rude comments. Do you often ask yourself, how can I help my child?

Five days a week I use to take a small group of children with autism for a walk in the community surrounding their school. Everyday we re-entered the school through a back door. Everyday the young lady in the group would stick her fingers in her ears and begin screaming and kicking the door and end up laying down on the concrete entry way.

I could not fathom what was distressing her or what she was communicating through her behavior. There was no apparent change in environment, sounds, temperatures, visual stimulus that I could ascertain. Was she protesting going back into the school into the classroom? It took myself and several others to calm her and get her in motion again. The behaviors increased and intensified over a period of weeks.

Finally, I decided to do the walk alone and to attend very carefully to the surroundings. As I approached the back door of the school, I heard a very quiet low steady hissing. The boiler room was located probably 10 yards from the door and the sound was coming from a vent on the other side of the fenced in area.

The next time we went for a walk I carried a pair of headphones with me and helped the young lady put them on just prior to arriving to the back door area. She entered school quietly and proceed to the classroom. She was permitted to carry the the headphones on future walks and put the headphones on prior to entering the building without incidence.

Eventually, she learned to regulate her behavior and quiet her response to an adverse auditory stimulus. Many people question the appropriateness of allowing a child to wear headphones in public. I question the appropriateness of SIB. Today, people walk around with ear buds, and I-pods. There are many appropriate types of ear plugs available to help others who have intense auditory sensitivity that are not visually noticeable and socially acceptable.

The next time your child has a meltdown or before your child has a meltdown… try to be a detective. Note the environment, the situation, try to ascertain the “why” of the behavior. Is your child’s behavior a response to sensory input or an attempt to communicate a protest, frustration, or a request for help?

Try to keep a journal, write notes. What happened prior to the behavior, during the behavior, and after the behavior. How did you and others respond and what could be done differently. Are the consequences reinforcing the behavior? Remember, as parents you are the experts and you know your child’s behaviors and patterns better than anyone on the planet. Information about your child’s actions and behaviors can help others help you help your child design interventions that really work.

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Educating Children with Autism: What does the National Research Council Say?

National Research Council (2001)

Educating Children with Autism
Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism.
Catherine Lord and James P. McGee, eds.
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education.
Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Executive Summary Highlights

What does Diagnosis, Assessment, and Prevalence look like?
Commonalities are strong and consistent across Autism Spectrum Disorders-ASD, with social deficits being the most prevalent.  There is no single behavior that is typical of autism or any autistic spectrum disorder. Currently, 1 in every 110 children will recieve a diagnosis of Autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder and 4 out of 5 children are typically male. 

What is the Role of Families

The role for family includes communication between home and school environment and family participation in shaping the educational programming for their child for home, educational and community environments.

  • Goals for Educational Services
  • Progress in; Social and cognitive abilities
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication skills
  • Adaptive skills
  • Behavior reduction
  • Generalization of abilities and skills across many environments within the educational and community setting.


What are the Priorities of Focus for Young children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder?

  • Functional spontaneous communication
  • Social instruction; social skills and social interaction
  • Cognitive development
  • Play skills
  • Proactive approach to behavior problems through positive behavior support strategies as outlined and presented through IDEiA.

These priorities should be delivered through instruction throughout the day throughout a variety of settings and within the natural context of the setting or experience.

Young children with an ASD  should have access to specialized instruction with typically developing children to the extent that it leads to the acquisition of the child’s educational goals.

One size fits all approaches of methods and materials may understate the many immediate and long term needs of individual students regarding behavior support and instruction across areas.

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What is Communication?

Simply stated, is a process of sharing information. Communicating is a two way interaction occurring between two people. Communicating is a social interface with another, it is an agreement of sorts, an understanding between two or more people. It can be like a game of volley ball, tennis, or ping pong, most often without the competitive element.

Communication consists of expressive language and receptive language it is a cognitive process, an understanding that has meaning or significance. Expressive language can be the telling or sharing of information, or requesting something from another person

Receptive language refers to receiving and comprehending a communication from another and responding to the person initiating the communication. You may be reading this, receiving information, processing it, attaching meaning and understanding- comprehending- this is the receptive process.

When you share the information with another it is the expressive process. When the other person receives the information, then responds using their expressive language, then the communicative process begins.

Communication can be verbal, or non verbal. Verbal communication manifests as the spoken word, the sound of living out loud with other human beings.

Non-verbal communication can manifest in the form of body language, posturing, visual gestures, and movement, for example, smiling at one another, waving of the hand to say “Hello” or pointing to tell someone to look at something or share an interest. Non-verbal communication can be in a visual format, photo, picture, or written, when it is shared or given to another person it is expressive and conveys the ‘communicative intent’.

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Autism Spectrum Disorders Homeschooling

Homeschooling a child with an ASD is not much different than what is required than homeschooling a neurotypical child or children within a public education setting. The environment needs to be highly structured and utilize “Best Practices”, such as TEACCH Methodology, PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System, Social Stories, and Visual Strategies.

Parents and other family members will need training in these interventions or an ASD consultant to support individualized educational assessment  and the development of materials and training in the applications. There are intensive therapies that can be used such as ABA – Applied Behavior Analysis, PRT – Pivotal Response Training, and Floortime – Developmental Relationship Model.

The last three interventions are very expensive and intensive and require parent participation and commitment and can be integrated into the daily schedule.

Children with ASD are expected to participate in the same curriculum as general education students, however the focus needs to be child centered, based on the child’s strengths, interests, and subjects and activities that have relevance and meaning in the child’s life.

The framework of programming, accommodations, and modifications within content areas that need to be adjusted to the learner’s developmental ability, cognitive ability, sensory needs, communication ability and social needs. In other words, what are the optimal conditions for the child to access the curriculum? participate in the curriculum, and achieve educational goals? and does the child need an alternative curriculum?  As with most homeschooling, social understanding and interaction with other peers needs to be an area of high priority.

Parent’s considering homeschooling a child with ASD need to educate themselves on the complex nature of Autism and try to gain an understanding of the underlying characteristics of Autism and the unique characteristics of their child. Coping with a child with an ASD can be stressful depending on the severity of impairment. Consistency in the delivery of instruction, in providing clear expectations, and in developing  a predictable environment and schedule of activities, are a few key concepts to be mindful of in order to create and achieve successful learning experiences.

Parents need to be mindful to balance their time and energy, take respite, talk with others, consult with professionals, and maintain optimal social and emotional health. ‘Quality of Life Outcomes’ are important for the parents, child, and other family members.

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Autism Question – How Can I Get My Son To Stop Swearing?

How can I get my son to stop swearing?

Ask yourself a few easy questions:

When does my child swear?

How often does he swear?

What activity is he doing when he swears?

What is reinforcing the behavior of swearing?

Is it a positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement?

Does your reaction reinforce the behavior so that he will repeat it just to enjoy the change in your facial expression?

Is it due to a lack of speech and language skills? an inability to communicate in a more desirable manner?

Is it a sensory issue? self stimulatory?

Is it delayed echolalia? something he heard somewhere else and continues to echo, repeats over and over again, because he does not comprehend its meaning or the social relevance?

Without understanding the context of the situation it becomes difficult to impart useful information. There is no one size fits all formula for any child. Here are some suggestions you might consider.

Ignore the swearing, do not reinforce or acknowledge it in any manner.

Simultaneously praise him and provide a tangible reward for using good words. The reward should be a highly preferred item of his choice, not yours, Reinforcements need to be immediate, and should have time limitations on use. (Food is not recommended) Consistency in providing reinforcement is absolutely necessary!

Keep a visible record of tally marks (data) to help you determine if the intervention is changing the behavior. Your child will need many opportunities to learn desired behavior. When you begin provide frequent rewards for “good words” or “good language” and gradually decrease the quantity of rewards increasing the duration or time frame between rewards.

The optimal objective is to change the behavior, using positive reinforcement, then gradually fade out the reinforcement and replace with self regulating behavior and or self monitoring. Some children will continue to need some type of reinforcement, visual cue or prompt to maintain the new behavior. What happens on your worst day? What’s the first thing to go? Language and routine.

Depending on the cognitive level of your child, develop a social story with your child, using words or pictures he understands, about swearing to help him gain social understanding. A social story will explain and describe the problem behavior, explain the social situation, provide a perspective of others, provide examples of good language and implications for using good language or “good words”.

Social stories do not dictate rules but lay out a foundation for expected social behavior and social understanding. Social stories can be read together several times a day and used in close proximity with the undesired behavior.

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