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How To Use An Effective Reward System For Aspergers Children

“I have a ten-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who is high functioning. We are consistent with making him aware of what is socially unacceptable and why. It seems to go in one ear and out the other though. For instance, at meal time we always tell him to eat with his mouth closed. He will do as we say for 20 seconds and then he’s right back to chewing with his mouth open. We have sent him to eat in the other room, or we take away dessert if he continues after the fourth prompt. We have had no success for the past 2 years! Do you have any ideas or do you think that it’s something he can’t help?”

This can be a “Catch-22” situation because, even though you want your son’s behavior to change in a positive manner, it might become more resistant or rigid if he is confronted or forced to behave in a manner that he finds disagreeable. This can become a long-term power struggle that can lead to your frustration and his feelings of failure.

In this case, giving your son rewards might have better results than imposing punishment. One possible solution would be “fun money” for your son. You can make or purchase “fun” (fake) money for your son to use when he behaves in a socially acceptable manner. The money can be spent for privileges, such as time spent with a video game, or other activities he enjoys. If your son behaves in an unacceptable manner, you can impose a financial penalty, and your son has to give a portion of the money back to you. However, if he has to give too much back, he might never earn the reward, so reserve the “fines” for very serious transgressions of the rules.

An effective economic-reward system is based on consistency in enforcing it and keeping the list of rewards/penalties attainable and short. Start this system with just one goal to earn reward and increase the goals as he gets a feel for how it works. Try using one standard-size piece of paper and list the rewards on the left-hand side and the penalties on the right-hand side. Your son will be able to comprehend this list without it overwhelming him. This way, when he is rewarded or punished, he will know that there are limits being set and he has a degree of control over how much he will receive or forfeit. Your son will feel a sense of empowerment with this system, and it will allow him to make choices; he will learn from both.

A structured reward system works well with Asperger’s children because they do extremely well with structure, consistency, and clarity. When there is no structure, the Asperger’s child feels that chaos is controlling his life. A reward system maintains structure for your son, and it eliminates chaos from his life.

Structure, consistency, and clarity will give your son a sense of mastery over his environment. Whether you incorporate the solution proposed above or one that you obtain elsewhere, you will be integrating predictability into your son’s life, and this leads to his being able to rely upon you as being supportive and fair in his upbringing. Children without Asperger’s Syndrome and within your son’s age range are coping with the beginning of adolescence. Children like your son are coping with the same thing, except they find that they have to deal with the Asperger’s diagnosis in addition to everything else.

You need to make sure that the consistency that we stress here is maintained for your son’s benefit. Do not let your feelings and emotions take precedence because of the stress that accompanies any child-discipline procedure. Stay calm and let him choose to earn reward or pay fines. Also, be willing and available to discuss discipline with your son; it’s important regardless of any diagnosis that your son has. Above all, be truthful and sincere; your son will know that you love him and care about his well being.

The Parenting Aspergers Resource Guide


•    Anonymous said... adjust expectations.
•    Anonymous said... Definitely the "make it a concrete rule" idea - usually very effective. As my son reached adolescence I have been able to say, "Other people will notice this behavior and that might make you feel uncomfortable. How should I tell you to stop without upsetting you?" - He's become much more self-conscious as a teen and that usually works.
•    Anonymous said... I always say it has to be engraved on his commandments before it is His gospel or rules, convincing is the hard part because the rigidity of thought. Being the enforcer helps and a small amount of medicine gives us just enough of an opening to get through. We have a level chart also with Xs and stars that is very effective.
•    Anonymous said... I could have written this post. ..LOL... much luck to us all!
•    Anonymous said... I dont think he is trying to agitate you it may be simply his way of stimming. The fact that most Aspie children are very literal and with a mouthful of food & mouth closed perhaps he think he will not be able to breath unless his mouth is open, my son has trouble breathing through nose. I wouldn't worry to much about eating with his mouth open.I would just focus on a pleasant family time of sharing your days events & actually eating the food you prepare. Most of us Aspie Parents seem to be hard on ourselves to correct our children to be the way others want them to be, can other people just learn that everyone is Human and just learn to embrace our differences, that makes us individuals.
•    Anonymous said... I have a 6 year old child with high functioning autism and she used to do this, she stopped when we made her the table rules enforcer. She likes to be in control, and I like everyone to follow the rules. No chewing with your mouth open, no elbows on the table, and using your silverware to eat. She gives strikes, and on the third strike no dessert. She has OCD, and as part of her routine she likes to be the one who gets no strikes and does everything perfect!! Good luck momma.
•    Anonymous said... I like the "make her the enforcer" idea. She's militant about no elbows on the table so maybe she'll be that way about not talking with her mouth full.
•    Anonymous said... I use a good/bad behaviour chart, things like manners get a smiley, rude or anger get a sad face. At the end of the week if he has more smileys than sad hr gets a treat, within reason of his choice. I make him complete the chart to re enforce his understanding and he adds them up also.
•    Anonymous said... Its nice to know this is happening in other houses also. Meals used to be so stressful in our home and we used so many different approaches with little results. What's helped the most is focusing less on the behaviors and being more calm ourselves, and adjusting our expectations.
•    Anonymous said... make it visual
•    Anonymous said... My twelve year old eats a lot with his hands, doesn't notice or care when he has food on his face, sits in funny positions ... Etc. etc. I might try to make him an enforcer. He is very motivated by earning points...thanks for the idea
•    Anonymous said... Ours is talking with her mouth full.
•    Anonymous said... Please don't make him eat in a different room. That only pronounces the alienation they feel on a daily basis. I have to tell my 12 yr old everything every single day, several times. Some things eventually stick, others do not. It gets annoying for us yes, but it is a part of them and the way their brains work. I also have a spitter when he doesn't like the texture or taste of something. I made him clean it up until he finally broke the nasty habit because that made him grossed out too. When we have people over he usually hides out until the coast is clear, and we go out I am very careful that his glass of water sits by itself so he doesn't accidently pick up and take a gulp of someone's soda and only order food that I know he likes. My life has gotten much more predictable and I am still able to have him in social situations by taking a few precautions.
•    Anonymous said... Sounds exactly like our son. And believe me, it ALL goes in one ear out the other, not just at meal time. Any one has some good ideas we'd love to see them too.
•    Anonymous said... They don't do it on purpose. Adjust expectations. Use gentle reminders now and then but don't get mad at them when they don't stop. I struggle with these sort of things everyday with my almost 10 yr old boy!
•    Anonymous said... This is same in our house too and meal times are stressful my son ( ADHD+autism)eats very loudly and open mouth you can't sit next to him also he giggle as a lot and using time for googling and messing with sister I am getting late to everywhere oh never mind what will I cook too very fussy eater only eat same food made my own visual reward chart it is hard I can't ignore itx
•    Anonymous said... Ugh sounds like my 8 year old. And also the yelling in people's faces when we are out. Sometimes I would like to put a "I have Aspergers" Tshirt on him so people have more patience with him.
•    Anonymous said... We have made index cards with pictures on them what is right at the dinner table and what is not. We have him review the cards before the meal. I have lamented them and punched holes and put a ring through them. I actually have many social story card rings we keep at the house, just like he has at school. If you google social stories.
•    Anonymous said... Write them down and put them up on the wall. If the rules are concrete and visible, then they are REAL.
•    Anonymous said... Yes, any ideas would be helpful! My son chews with his mouth open, and spits out things if he doesn't like the taste/texture etc. But, he just spits it out-not on his plate-or a napkin it just comes flying out. Its really gross! Not to fun when guests are over or if we are chancing to eat out:)

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Anonymous said...

I am also high functioning and over 50 years of age and still need to be reminded to chew with my mouth closed. I dearly wish that this was not true and when I return from any dinner my daughter still always asks "Did you chew with your mouth closed".

To know that I may be at some fantastic restaurant chewing with my mouth open is abhorrent to me, but I still do it even though I have tried to curb the habit for 45 years.

I think it has to do with the texture of the food.

In my opinion because your son's brain is always moving forward, and because life present so many challenges he forgets. Eating is a pleasant but necessary human habit and I think when Aspies are relaxed they tend to forget to alter behavior that comes naturally to others. We always need prompting. Could you introduce an item to a meal that would serve as a prompt. A little figurine that only ever is used at meal time that is placed close to his plate that could be called something related to a closed mouth. eg. A little mouth closed monster.

As a child I was punished continually for bad table manners, as an adult I am no connoisseur of fine food.

Anonymous said...

I totally know what you mean.. my husband and I say everyday is like the movie ground hogs day.. we have to tell our son to do the same thing over and over because like you said they remember for 20 secs and then forget.

Anonymous said...

We had a similar problem with our son as far as using utensils. We prompted him over and over with no punishment. He's 12 now and I can't recall the last time he didn't use utensils. I hope you have the same luck~

Anonymous said...

We have rewarded our son when he does the right thing instead of punishment... and it worked better then punishment.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know that other parents are going thru the same type of situations as we are with our 9 year old son who has been diagnosed with High Functioning Aspergers, ADHD and Anxiety. With the help of our great behavior therapist, things are getting better. I do have to say that my son is trying his hardest and so far this school year has been awesome for him....since Kindergarten, even pre-school, was a complete nightmare!

Anonymous said...

We use a system called Behavior Bucks, it is mainly used for reward but it is helpful when he is out of line, it's great to also show him many bucks various behaviors and actions are worth. We tailored a shopping list which we change every few months, works beautifully.

Anonymous said...

have you tried video modeling for him? record him eating and then record someone else eating properly- maybe when he can visually see the difference it will help good luck

Anonymous said...

Where can I find more info on the behavior bucks?? Do you use that for everything? Yelling, inappriate talk, cleaning up, bathing? It sounds like something that would work for my 8 year old! And definitly second the rewarding and encouraging instead of punishment :)

Anonymous said...

Life is a journey. We grow and mature, things come and go..

As long as everyone is happy and productive in life, how much does it matter of they chew with a mouth open or not? Sure, It may be a 'social faux pas' but who defines what is socially acceptable? You, or those who judge you??

It is true though that to survive and function in 'socitey' we have to conform a bit, but don't let being socially acceptable over rule reality and goals that are too much.

Anonymous said...

sorry to say but my a/s hubby still does it after me trying so hard for 40 years to get him to stop,you cant punish,it will never work,just reward if he gets it right,but its the co ordination,cant do 2 things at once,table manners are and can be a problem,try reading books by tony attwood,

Anonymous said...

This may ~everyone is different~ the a texture/ feel thing as well. Mine is going on 18 but will not eat certain things due to texture. The other way to look at it is at least you know he has a diagnosis that could explain an innapropriate behavior. There are grown people with out that have the same and worse behavior. I hope you find a resolution, but if not just remember that in the grand scheme this is a minor behavior.

Anonymous said...

I had the same problem with my 10year old who has high functioning Aspergers.
After punishment and rewards all failed, I sat down with him, made sure he was calm and explained carefully why I valued our time eating together so much. I told him that his eating with his mouth open made me feel disgusted reminding him what disgusted meant and that spoiled a special time for me. I made all my feelings very explicit.
He was shocked to hear how I felt but ever since has made a real effort. This has transferred to eating in public as well.
I am starting to realise that with my son, so many things i assume he understands implicitly have not entered his mind at all but that when I explain them, he can learn them.

Anonymous said...

My husband is more of the fanatic about the chewing with the mouth open that I am when it comes to our 12 year old daughter. I say there are bigger problems out there to deal with than whether she has her mouth open or not. I feel that when we get more serious problems out of the way then I can deal with the chewing with the mouth open. I know adults who are "normal" who chew with their mouths open and make smacking sounds. I just don't see the need to ride her for it.
18 hours ago · Like · 1

Anonymous said...

I have a 16 yr old high fuctioning Aspie that struggles with table's not intentional....somethings are harder for him to eat and opening his mouth alittle wider helps him not gag. Instead of manners becoming a power struggle...I encouraged him to cut his food into small bites, and to only take a couple of pieces at a time....this helped alot and pretty soon I didn't have to rimind him

Anonymous said...

my son has been diagnosed with Aspergers, anxiety and ADHD too....he is 12 now and just started medication which has made a world of difference... Didn't want to do it..and I'm still scared about the ling term effects but now he goes to school happy and last week for the first time he actually said he liked school...

Anonymous said...

my aspie son is almost 16 and thankfully we were told years ago that rewards work way better than punishments. we constantly reward the good behaviors and try not to punish. so far, it has worked well.

Anonymous said...

Try picture prompts and rewards for desired behavior reward every successful 2 mins and then increase as he gets better.

Unknown said...

i have a son thats 8 now with Aspergers and have had same probs but i have found a system that helps you help them learn things like this on there level so to say i use a system of positive behavior role play we took his toys and pictures or other members of family and role play letting him be you for say and you role play him in this. my son seemed to pick up on how things like this should be in areas of behavior actions and discipline and as well as social skills and communications, it does take a few trys but sticking with it i seen a great deal of improvement with table manners and over all behavior problems ,, we about 8mos ago had non stop tantrums that would last all day i do mean all day every day we dont have but one or two a month now i use the role play in place of time outs and have a set time after school we just have what we call pbs time stands for positive behavior support. we also use a behavior chart where he gets to put star on days he meets or agreed amount for each day like now we are up to a whole day of good behavior we started with like 3 hrs a day he get to put a star and by end of like half the week he get to pick something out of prize bucket and increased it little each month at first then week by week , we are up to making it a 5 out of 7 days with good behavior to earn a prize.

Kitten said...

I feel your pain OP.

My stepson eats with his mouth open and its so disgusting I often cant eat sitting opposite. It has made me physically sick before. Sadly his parents dont believe that it is a fight worth starting and so at 16 it is still not addressed. I would say keep going with the reminders, the lesson is clearly a hard one for him so punishment is not appropriate. But dont give up.

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