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How to Use An Effective Reward System for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

 “I have a ten-year-old boy with ASD 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.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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. 

==> Parenting System that Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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 children on the spectrum because they do extremely well with structure, consistency, and clarity. When there is no structure, the autistic 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. 

==> Crucial Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Children without ASD 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 ASD 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.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

•    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 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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