Motivation in individuals with ASD:
The My Choice Deck cards are specifically designed to act as motivators for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Children with ASD typically are not motivated the same way as individuals who are not on the autism spectrum.
A child without autism will take out his/her math book and turn to the appropriate page at the request of the teacher. Why? Because they don’t want to stand out, look strange to the other kids, get in trouble, upset the teacher, get sent to the principal’s office, have their parents called by the teacher, flunk math, etc. Each of these reasons is socially based and is considered intrinsic motivation. It comes from the child’s social connection to the world and their desire to fit in socially.
As a result of their sensory hypersensitivity, children with autism are not naturally learning from their environment to the same degree as those who do not have ASD, nor are they building the same social connection to the world.
On a day to day basis, most children with autism are not taking in the subtle social environment surrounding them, and so they are not developing a social database of information that has the same depth as those without autism to use as reference or for motivation.
A child with autism, when asked to take out their math book may reply with “Why?” or “I hate math, why would I want to get my math book out?” or “what do I get if I take my math book out?” These questions are a request for motivation to complete a task that the child does not either see the value of, or want to execute. As parents and caregivers, when we can answer the question “What’s in it for them” with something that they relate to, something they want, or something they want to avoid, we have the tools we need to motivate our children extrinsically. It’s important to remember that this behavior has been originated by the child’s difficulty with neurological processing, and this is not a result of a cognitive decision the child has made, or a problem with the child’s character.
Extrinsic motivation is not a bad thing, it is the same motivation most people use to get themselves to go to work in the morning. Most of us would not go to work if we did not get paid, so we are responding to an extrinsic motivation.
Many parents initially respond to this process by feeling that they are “bribing” their child to do things that should come naturally or should be done “just because that is the way we do it.” This is a socially based belief that is not going to support your efforts as a parent of a child with ASD, or help you to motivate your child with autism. The concept of bribery includes dishonesty or illegally requesting a favor, and there is nothing dishonest about finding a motivator for a child with autism. In fact, providing motivation is an act of kindness which helps the child to do what they need to do much more easily.
Many parents worry that they are setting a bad precedent by “paying” a child to do things they should do automatically, and fear that their child will always require the extrinsic motivator to stimulate desired behaviors. In fact, the opposite is often true. Children with autism tend to develop very strong habit patterns, and once the behavior is established in the child’s mind as “the way we do it,” you can wean the child off the extrinsic motivator, and the behavior should continue.