Autism-Related Articles, Books, Services

Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's All About Motivation

Teaching a child with autism takes time. Lots of time.

With Tom, the issue isn't compliance. And it isn't behavior. To some degree I could say that it's about comprehension. But most importantly, it's about motivation.

Tom's happy to go out... or stay in. He's perfectly willing to do a project if we sit next to him and give him direction and support. But almost inevitably, when we step away, he's off in his own head - or back on the couch, flipping through picture books and waiting for his next instructions.

The reality is, there's no good reason for him to actively want to complete a project, read a whole book, or think of and execute something on his own. There are no peers he wants to share things with, and the idea of excelling in something for its own sake hasn't really caught on. Competition doesn't interest him. And as soon as he shows himself capable of doing something on his own (making lunch, taking a shower, and so forth), we immediately expect him to do it every time.

From time to time, we offer bribes for independent work (sometimes called "reinforcers," or "motivators."). But we've found that then the process becomes all about the prize. When we withdraw the prize reward, he's still willing to do the work - but only because we insist, support, and nudge.

I keep hearing how people with HFA and Asperger syndrome are passionately involved in their areas of interest. I see kids on the spectrum who fit this mold. But I'm still working on just how best to help my own child discover his own sense of purpose and direction.

And, meanwhile, I'm working on a skill that's eluded me for a lot of years: patience.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Frustrations of a Busy Schedule

We've been busy, Peter and I... and it shows in Tom's homeschooling experience.

When we first got started with homeschooling, I had a steady gig... we had health insurance on the COBRA plan... and there's was plenty of time to create unique study units based on Tom's personal interests.

We explored Cape Cod; took field trips from Bourne to Provincetown.

We went to Boston museums on a regular basis, and checked out many of the homeschooling programs and events offered throughout the whole area.

We used the woods, the lakes and the beach as our classroom... we took on complex art projects and even went on a whale watch.

All that wonderful creative activity has gone up in a puff of smoke, though, as we struggle to keep our financial ducks in a row.

The steady gig disappeared in a budgetary implosion. COBRA dried up. "Guaranteed" markets I'd relied on for years no longer exist... and many "sure thing" gigs suddenly decided the money wasn't available to outsource. It takes most of our time, energy and hard work just to keep the work coming in and going out in a timely manner.

That doesn't mean Tom isn't learning: he certainly is! He's now with a group of homeschoolers twice a week, giving him the opportunity to learn social and collaborative skills (and us the chance to get some work done!). At home, he's working on critical academics: reading comprehension, long-form writing, mathematics, computer skills. And of course there's still music.

But it's not the wonderful, fun, free exploration we started with... and I miss it.

The funny thing is, Tom rarely seems to feel he's missing out. Sure, he'd love to get to the art museum - but it's by no means an obsession. In fact, he seems perfectly happy with our much-more-predictable but much duller day-to-day schedule.

Can't help but wonder whether all the creative, open-ended activity we were doing was more for me than for Tom??