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.


•    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:)

Post your comment below...

RE: "How can we get him to change his eating habits?"

"My grandson has ASD. He is age 7. His diet consists of cheese, eggs, bread, milk, juice, wieners, fish, hamburgers, chicken, mashed or French fried potatoes and, on occasion, chocolate and bananas. He will eat no pasta, vegetables, or any other fruit. Does this eating problem go along with Autism? How can we get him to change his eating habits?" 

Your grandson’s disorder may cause unusual reactions to new foods and he may not want to eat them. To him, they may taste bitter, salty, or just plain awful. They may smell bad (to him). He may dislike the textures of new foods. Consequently, he doesn’t want to eat foods that cause these reactions.

Compared to some other kids on the spectrum, your grandson’s diet is not that terrible. He gets protein from eggs, milk, cheese, wieners, fish, hamburger, and chicken  ...grains, which provide B vitamins, from bread and hamburger and hot dog buns  ...some vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, from juice, potatoes, chocolate, and bananas  ...and calcium and vitamin D from milk and cheese.
==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Parents' Comprehensive Handbook

All in all, his diet could be worse and is not much different from what many neurotypical children eat. However, his diet would be more nutritious if he ate more fruits, vegetables, and grains. Perhaps he would try some whole grain cereals. 
Many autistic children like Life cereal or Cheerios. See if he likes popcorn, which is a whole grain (don’t load it up with a lot of butter, though). Try whole grain breads, hamburger and hot dog buns. 
He might like whole grain rice. Try it mixed in a cheese and chicken casserole. Most kids like macaroni and cheese. See if he does. Try tacos made with whole grain tortillas, hamburger, and cheese. You might be able to sneak in some chopped tomato and onion. Use low fat hamburger and 1% milk.

See if he will drink different types of fruit juices. There are new ones on the market that are delicious and have a serving of fruit and one of vegetables in each glass. Many fruits may taste sour to him. If he likes cereal, slice half of a banana on it. 
Canned peaches and pears are sweet and may appeal to him. Cut up fruits into bite sized pieces so they are easy to eat. Don’t chastise him if he doesn’t eat them; maybe in the future he will. Make small apple or blueberry muffins. He might like them, too. Yogurt with fruit is an option you could try.

As far as vegetables are concerned, it may be an uphill road! But, sometimes vegetables can be hidden in other foods, for example, in those juices mentioned above. How about putting some onion in his hamburger? Potatoes are vegetables and he likes them! Try oven frying the French fries instead of frying in oil. Blend some cooked cauliflower into his mashed potatoes. 
He may not notice the difference. He may like sweet potatoes. He might like creamed corn or cornbread. Does he eat any soup, such as pea soup or vegetable? You could try tomato soup made with milk -- he might like it. If you put finely chopped, frozen carrots and peas in a chicken/cheese casserole, he might eat them. Avocado has a bland taste, and you could mix it into his hamburger patties.

It’s very important not to make “a big deal” about what he doesn’t eat. If you do, eating will become a power struggle. Offer various new foods along with ones he likes. If he doesn’t like them, don’t make an issue of it. Some battles aren’t worth constant fighting, especially when his diet isn’t too bad to begin with. Keep serving some new foods along with the old ones. Avoid serving soda pop and sweets so he doesn’t fixate on them.

Lastly, make sure he has a multivitamin each day. Get one that is chewable, tastes good, and has a cute shape. Also, drinking Ensure or Pediasure is a good way to supplement his diet with vitamins and minerals.
Best of luck!

How Chiropractic Care Can Help Kids With ASD



Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) describes a combination of neurodevelopmental disorders affecting communication and social interaction. While there is no cure for ASD, several alternative therapies can help kids living with autism lead a normal and productive life. If you thought you’ve explored all autistic treatment options, chances are you haven’t considered seeing a chiropractor.

Most people think chiropractors adjust and manipulate the body into submission. However, chiropractors improve the nervous system and spine function, which in turn improves other body systems. Chiropractic adjustments also improve neurological functions, enhancing social behavior, mood, focus, and concentration. If your child is struggling with autistic spectrum disorder, a Chiropractor Portland, OR, can help in the following ways.

1. Offers early interventions

The earlier you identify the signs of ASD, the sooner your child can get the help they need. As mentioned, autism can’t be cured or healed by itself. Affected children live with these issues for the rest of their lives. However, by identifying signs of ASD early, interventions leading to better outcomes are made sooner. Chiropractic care is among the many early interventions that can benefit children with ASD. Chiropractic interventions are also safe for young kids.

2. Improves quality of life

Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder often show symptoms unrelated to ASD, especially digestive problems and chronic ear infections. A misaligned spine worsens these symptoms because of nerve interference, making spinal adjustment necessary. Chiropractic interventions can help improve spinal misalignment. Minimizing nerve interference by the spine can improve the quality of life of autistic children.

3. Improve immune system function

Chiropractic interventions also significantly improve immune system function. Most children with autism are vulnerable to infections because of compromised immune system function. Nerve interference also plays a role in reducing immune system function. Gentle chiropractic adjustments alleviate nerve interference, improving communication between the body and the brain. This improves immune system function and overall health and wellness for autistic kids.

4. It helps reduce unique challenges

OTZ is an emerging chiropractic technique that helps reduce several challenges faced by autistic children. OTZ interventions focus on realigning the child’s first vertebrae with the skull. Misalignment interferes with normal body processes, especially breathing and sleeping. OTZ alignment helps children with autism spectrum disorder find relief in these areas. If adjusted properly, your child can breathe better and relax effectively. This intervention also calms the natural fight/flight response, which is always high in children with autism.

5. Provides relief and improves another area of concern

Children with autism face several challenges, unlike other kids. They struggle with their:

      Communication and interaction skills – Communicating and interacting with other kids is a big challenge for autistic kids. This makes it hard to make friends and engage with peers.

      Sensory processing – Sensory processing issues make it difficult for autistic children to complete daily activities like shopping.

Autistic children also experience language and speech delays and cognitive behavioral problems. Chiropractic care can address and improve these issues.


Most people know chiropractors as alternative medical professionals who diagnose and care for musculoskeletal and spinal issues. While spinal and musculoskeletal issues largely affect adults, chiropractic care also benefits children, especially autistic children. These interventions improve the digestive system, immune function, sleep, and other challenges facing autistic children.

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