Extrinsic Motivation
from Consequences to Incentives

Use extrinsic motivation--rewards--to encourage the behaviors that you want from your Aspergian because children with Aspergers are usually only intrinsically motivated (that is, motivated by the pleasure of doing the task) about their fixated interests.

Aspergerians, by nature, are less intrinsically motivated than NTs--unless, of course, the task involves their fixated interest.

*NT is short for neuro-typical. It's the polite way to refer to people whom others might call "normal." As you can imagine, to use the word "normal" is offensive to those of us who are not.

That means that you'll need to create extrinsic motivations to improve behaviors. What does that mean? It means that you should provide incentives.

When I realized that Trio Man was fixating on what he was going to lose rather than doing what I wanted, I had an "aha" moment. I gave him an incentive.

When you think of discipline, you probably think about consequences, negative consequences. But if your home is like mine, then you know that those negative consequences usually do not work.

I knew that something needed to change because no one was happy. Trio Man, our son with Aspergers, was definitely not happy. My husband and I were frustrated. Our younger boy, Spider Man, was watching and then imitating his big brother's undesirable behaviors. Ugh!

Fixating on the Negative

One day I realized that Trio Man was fixating on the negative consequence. That is, he was thinking more about what he was going to lose than he was on accomplishing the task that I had given him. I needed him to think about the task!

Once I realized that I needed Trio Man to concentrate on the task rather than on the potential to lose something he wanted or on the potential to get a punishment, then I started to think about what rewards I was willing to give him if he accomplished the task.

(I did learn about extrinsic motivation when I took those grad school classes. I just keep forgetting that I need to adapt what I learned about adult learning theory to children!)

Positive Parenting

Mrs. Snell's newsletter with homework listing

From a positive parenting perspective, I could simply say something like, "Sure, you can play video games after you complete your homework." That's what the positive parenting and strong-willed child experts would say to do. And that's a good first start.

Allowing the video game after completing the homework, is an incentive--extrinsic motivation for completing the task. Trio Man is not intrinsically motivated to do his homework (although some days he surprises me). So, he needs the promise of video game time.

But I needed to go one step further. For this simple example, I needed Trio Man to see the progress he was making toward completing homework for the day. That gave him hope.

I am thankful that Trio Man's teacher provided a newsletter each week that listed which pages in his homework packet should be completed on each day. (Shout out to Mrs. Nicole Snell!) I added bullet points to each item in the list. When Trio Man completed a page, he would check it off of the list.

When everything for that day was completed, then he could play video games.

(You can learn more about to-do lists for kids, which people in the Autism world call "visual schedules," on the PECS and Other Visual Schedules page.)

Disappointment and Attainable Goals

When we started incentive plans, Trio Man would get really disappointed when he didn't get the prize. So I had to learn a few more things:

  1. Deep breath and patience!
  2. Console without talking.
  3. Offer the incentive for something else, maybe another desirable behavior or for "next time."
  4. Make sure the next thing is attainable.

Make sure the next incentive is attainable because he needs to feel a sense of accomplishment. If incentives are going to work, then he has to get one. And then another. And then another!

If incentives are going to work, then he has to get one. Make sure it's attainable.

Trio Man once had a teacher who told me, "Oh, he can accomplish it. He just won't." Well, then it's not an attainable goal. Make it attainable, then make the next goal a little harder and so on.

What incentives work in your home?

What incentives have you used? Did they always work or did you have to try new and different rewards?

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