- Academic Supports for College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Advice from Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder to Teachers Regarding Literacy Instruction
- Advice for Peer Tutors
- Applying the Ziggurat and CAPS Model in Your School District
- Aspects of Support for Learning
- A Young Adult's Guide to Deep Breathing as a Relaxation Technique: A Personalized Fact Sheet
- Can Schedule Usage Training Include Elements of Literacy Instruction?
- Clean Up Your Act! Creating an Organized Classroom Environment for Students on the Spectrum.
- Change is Good! Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum when Introducing Novelty
- Classroom Choreography: The Art of Scheduling Staff and Students
- Complexities of Instructional Support
- Creating a Circle of Support
- Critical Features of Early Intervention: Merging Best Practices
- Developing Long Term Relationships Between School and Parents
- Early Intervention for Young Children on the Autism spectrum: Parent’s Perspective
- Educating Students with Autism: Are There Differences in Placement?
- Establishing Long Term Goals: What Are We Hoping to Achieve
- For General Education Teachers: Helpful Questions to Ask About Students with ASD
- Get Engaged: Designing Instructional Activities to Help Students Stay On-Task
- "Ham It Up and Get It Cookin!!" Thoughts From Dr. Greenspan
- Home-School Communication
- "I Can Do It Myself!" Using Work Systems to Build Independence in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
- “I Wake Up for MY Dream!” Personal Futures Planning Circles of Support, MAPS and PATH
- Life After High School...So Now What
- Literacy Resources
- Lovaas Revisited: Should We Have Ever Left?
- Making the Most of Morning Meeting
- Motivating Students Who Have Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Moving from Preschool to Kindergarten: Planning for a Successful Transition and New Relationships
- Peer Support Programs
- Promoting the Educational Success of Students with Autism: The Role of the Parent-Staff Relationship
- Planning for Successful Transitions Across Grade Levels
- Practical Steps to Writing Individualized Education Program (IEP) Goals: And Writing Them Well
- Practical Recommendations for Utilizing a Range of Instructional Approaches in General Education Settings
- Recognizing Different Types of Readers with ASD
- Reframing Our Thinking and Getting to Know the Child
- Restricted Repertoires in Autism and What We Can Do About It
- School Cultures that Support Students Across the Autism Spectrum
- Service Learning: Something to Think About
- Supporting Staff Using Coaching Model
- Supporting Students with Asperger's Syndrome
- Teaching Students Who Are Low-Functioning: Who Are They and What Should We Teach?
- Theory of Mind in Autism: Development, Implications, and Intervention
- There is No Place Called Inclusion
- The Road to Post-Secondary Education: Questions to Consider
- Tips for Teaching High-Functioning People with Autism
- Tips to Consider When Including a Student with ASD in Art, Music, or Physical Education
- Transition: Preparing for a Lifetime
- Transition to Middle School
- Transition Time: Helping Individuals on the Autism Spectrum Move Successfully from One Activity to Another
- Understanding the Design and Power of a Personal Schedule
- Using Visual Schedules: A Guide for Parents
- Who Are We Working for Anyway? Avoiding Personal Agendas at Meetings to Better Support Individuals Across the Autism Spectrum
- Structured Teaching Strategies: A Series
- Growing Up Together
- How to Open A Combination Lock/Locker
- Supporting Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders Through Postsecondary Transition
- Curriculum Materials and Programs for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
- Implementation and Effectiveness of Using Video Self-Modeling with Students with ASD
- Video Self-Modeling How To and Examples
Motivating Students Who Have Autism Spectrum Disorders
Contributed by Rozella Stewart
Motivating individuals who have autism spectrum disorder is an essential but often difficult challenge. It is essential because, by definition, they have restricted repertoires of interests and skills needed for community living and coping. Without planned, positive experiences, these individuals often become increasingly victimized by their autism as they age. With successful experiences, each can become a victor who lives, works, and plays in the community. It is difficult, at least in part, because people who have autism are particularly vulnerable to key factors which impact motivation.
An individual's motivation is strongly influenced by: learning history; learning styles; internal and external incentives to engage in tasks; expectations of success or failure with a particular task; meaningfulness and purposefulness of the task from the perspective of the learner; and task-surrounding environmental variables which affect attention and achievement.
In general, tasks and activities which learners associate with past success tend to stimulate interest. Success begets success! Challenges which trigger memories of past anxieties and failures tend to stimulate avoidance reactions and self-preservation responses. Although occasional failure is often seen as a challenge by learners who are highly motivated to learn through problem solving, repeated failure fosters feelings of futility and frustration in fragile learners who lack self-confidence and may lack competencies for task-related problem solving.
When diligently applied, proactive strategies often prove successful in eventually eliciting positive, productive responses and pride in personal accomplishment. The following are just a few success-oriented strategies that support motivation for individuals who have autism spectrum disorder:
Know the individual.
- Maintain a current list of the individual's strengths and interests. Include preoccupations and fascinations that may be considered "bizarre" or strange. Use these strengths and interests as the foundation for gradually expanding the individual's repertoire of skills and interests.
- Note tasks or activities which create frustration and heightened anxiety for the individual. Attention to these factors can result in avoiding episodes which perpetuate insecurity, erode confidence, foster distrust in the environment, and generally result in avoidance behaviors.
- Pay attention to processing and pacing issues which may be linked to cognitive and/or motor difficulties inherent to the individual's autism. Give the individual time to respond. Vary types of cues given when movement disturbances are suspected.
Structure a supportive environment. Both the social and physical milieu should encourage and support successful task performance.
- Teach in natural environments that contain the cues and reinforcement which prompt and maintain learned behaviors whenever possible.
- Be sure that everyone involved encourages and supports independent effort whenever possible. Willingness to try to perform independently as opposed to remaining dependent on others results when the individual attributes successful performance to his own efforts rather than to external factors.
- Plan optimally stimulating (neither too stimulating nor too nonstimulating) tasks and activities. Plan ways to decrease the impact of environmental distractors that interfere with task initiation and completion.
Use instructional strategies which support successful outcomes.
- Assemble materials, or teach the learner to assemble materials, in task- appropriate sequences.
- Teach new tasks by providing examples or modeling so the learner has a clear vision of task sequences and expected outcomes.
- Incorporate learning tasks into preferred topics and activities.
- Plan tasks and activities that result in meaningful outcomes from the perspective of the learner. Vary tasks and activities frequently as opposed to requiring boring repetition. Conversely, capture opportunities to expand learning when interest is high.
- Plan and present tasks and activities at an appropriate level of difficulty for the individual involved.
- Provide instructions or information visually as opposed to verbally to decrease distraction and to make information more user friendly for the person.
- Introduce unfamiliar tasks in a secure environment so that later learned familiarity will capture the individual's attention in more challenging environments. For example, if science class is going to discuss the stars during class time, parents might observe a night sky with their son/daughter. This provides a familiar link to subsequent school experiences. This familiarization process is sometimes referred to as "teaching pivotal behaviors." Learned behaviors become pivotal in motivating the individual to attend to tasks in a variety of situations.
- Assign specific models for the individual to observe and imitate when in group activities such as circle time or group exercises. When in more fluid group situations, assign or help the individual to select a specific role which he or she can perform. Teach the individual how to perform selected roles.
- Plan for successful outcomes that can be achieved "here and now" rather than at some more distant time. Rather than pushing for a perfect response, reinforce all goal-directed attempts.
- Structure motivating event sequences in which the less familiar, less preferred activity is followed by the familiar, preferred experience (First _____, then _____.). Structure short, successful experiences with less preferred activities and longer, equilibrium restoring experiences with more preferred, easier-to-tolerate activities. This strategy works particularly well for very hesitant learners who have extremely restricted repertoires of interests.
- For learners with broader repertoires of interests and skills, build motivational momentum by beginning with highly preferred, success- guaranteed tasks and alternating such tasks and activities with less preferred, more challenging tasks throughout the day. This strategy also works for individuals who are so highly aroused by anticipated preferred events that they can not focus on other tasks until the highly stimulating need has been addressed.
- Focus on errorless learning. Teach (perhaps by modeling or having a peer model) the person to do the task right the first time.
- Avoid having the learner undo or disassemble products which he or she perceives as finished. Erasing work or taking apart finished products often makes no sense to the learner and may result in a "Why do it?" response mode. Plan ways to correct or repeat work that do not involve undoing what has been done.
- Offer attention-getting choices which stimulate personal involvement.
In general, accentuate the positive; disempower the negative.
Finally, remember that failure, sarcasm, ridicule, and apparent lack of confidence on the part of those who live and work with people with autism spectrum disorders decrease motivation and perpetuate cycles of learned helplessness. Increased motivation results from experiences which teach people how to interact with both social and physical environments in ways that result in positive outcomes. While always most secure with the familiar, resistance to the unfamiliar decreases and inclinations to try gradually increases as people with autism spectrum disorders learn that they will be okay and that they might even enjoy a new experience.
References and for further reading:
Butera, G., & Haywood, H.C. (1995). Cognitive education of young children with autism. In E. Schopler & G.B. Mesibov (Eds.), Learning and cognition in autism (pp. 269-292). New York, NY: Plenum Press.
Charlop, M.H., Kurtz, P.F., & Casey, F.G. (1990). Using abberant behaviors as reinforcers for autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 163-181.
Dyer, K., Dunlap, G., & Winterling, V. (1990). Effects of choice making on the serious problem behaviors of students with severe handicaps. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 515-524.
Frea, W.D. (1995). Social-communication skills in higher functioning children with autism. In R.L. Koegel & L.K. Koegel (Eds.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies for initiating positive interactions and improving learning opportunities (pp. 53-66). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Koegel, R.L., Koegel, L.K., Frea, W.D., & Smith, A.E. (1995). Emerging interventions for children with autism: Longitudinal and lifestyle implications. In R.L. Koegel & L.K. Koegel (Eds.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies for initiating positive interactions and improving learning opportunities (pp. 1- 15). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Koegel, R.L., Koegel, L.K., & Parks, D.R. (1995). Teach the Individual: Model of Generalization. In R.L. Koegel & L.K. Koegel (Eds.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies for initiating positive interactions and improving learning opportunities (pp. 67-77). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Moes, D. (1995). Parent education and parenting stress. In R.L. Koegel & L.K. Koegel (Eds.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies for initiating positive interactions and improving learning opportunities (pp. 79-93). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Smith, M.D., Belcher, R.G., & Juhrs, P.D. (1995). A guide to successful employment for individuals with autism. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Stuart, R. (1996). Motivating students who have autism spectrum disorders. The Reporter, 1(3), 1-3.