Parenting a child with autism spectrum disorder is a gift, but can be very challenging and isolating. During Autism Awareness Month, we want to bring attention to one particularly difficult area, motivation. Encouraging any student to fight through tough or boring subjects is a challenge in itself. However, it’s uniquely difficult for parents of students with autism. Poor coping skills and restricted or infatuated interests often make motivating your autistic child seem impossible. If you have a student with autism, encouragement and motivation is possible! Follow these simple rules (and not just during Autism Awareness Month!) to motivate your exceptional learner to go from victim to victor in any subject.

Use these key strategies to motivate your learner.

  1. Know Your Learner: We’re all the same; certain subjects or tasks frustrate us and trigger our need to escape, argue, or procrastinate. The key to motivating and encouraging your student with autism is to know them well. Help them develop a love of learning while pushing through tough subjects. Make a list of their strengths and struggles, of tasks that trigger their excitement and those that trigger frustration. Plan tasks that trigger frustration for after movement and a good snack. Take frequent breaks doing those fun activities and use them as a reward to motivate your student during their times of frustration. As the primary caregiver, you also know how your student is best stimulated as well as those things that race their engines too high for learning. Be mindful of that when planning your lessons and day. Perhaps the biggest key to gaining, and keeping your student’s attention, is to incorporate their interests frequently. Use their latest obsession in learning to engage them and motivate them to participate on a higher level. What does this look like? If your student is in love with trains, use trains in every subject. Count, multiply, and divide trains. Study the physics and science of locomotion. Knowing the likes and dislikes of your learner with autism will help you to keep them motivated and engaged throughout the learning process.
  2. Provide Structure: All students benefit from a schedule and structured learning times, but perhaps none more so than students on the autism spectrum. Take the stress and anxiety of what’s next out of the equation by providing your student with a daily schedule and task list. Encourage a higher level of independence by allowing your student to help plan their day. Often when we share power and give our kids the ability to be part of the decision making, the process goes more smoothly as they have more ownership and feel a greater sense of responsibility. Make sure your environment is structured and unencumbered by those things that would overstimulate your learner. Visual ques and reward charts are a great way to show your learner exactly what’s coming next and what they’ll earn for a positive, resilient attitude.
  3. Plan For Success: To ensure that your student stays engaged and positive about their learning experience, you need to plan ahead. Make sure to have a variety of tasks and options for assessments that are within your child’s interests and abilities. Don’t just repeat the same tasks over and over, but vary them to keep your students interest. Be sure that each lesson or task is manageable and within your student’s capabilities. There’s nothing more frustrating than actually not being able to do something. Don’t move too fast! Be sure that you’ve broken down tasks and learning into steps and sequences that make sense and are at his/her ability level.
  4. Illustrate whenever possible! Students on the autism spectrum greatly benefit from role playing and concrete, real-world application. Projects that include clear objectives and processes are often better than straight forward question-and-answer assessments. Whenever you can participate or illustrate a concept of the learning process, do it! Your learner will have fun and grasp more, and you won’t have to beg to stay on task!

Staying positive is one of the most important ways to motivate your student on the autism spectrum. Let your child see how much you believe in him following the rules above, and he will believe in himself! What new strategy have you picked up during Autism Awareness Month? Share it in a comment below!