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How to Safely Motivate Autistic Children

Children with autism have problems interacting with others and may suffer from impaired communication skills. A challenge for parents and teachers is to find a method to motivate these children that is both safe and effective. Developing language, behavioral and social skills can be extremely challenging for some autistic children; however, some tips to aid this effort are highlighted here.

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Getting to know the child

Before you can get started on any type of learning strategy, it is essential you get to know the child in question. This includes:

  • Creating and updated a list of the child’s interests and strengths. Include any fascinations or preoccupations that could be strange.
  • Take not of activities that cause anxiety of frustration.
  • Notice any pacing or processing issues that may be present.

When you understand these things, you can create a strategy that will be conducive to the way the autistic child will learn best. No two children are exactly the same, which means you need to carefully observe and evaluate prior to trying to motivate.

Methods of motivation

There are a number of methods that can be used to motivate an autistic child. Some of the most common motivators are highlighted here.

  • Play therapy

You can motivate autistic children with play therapy, which can help to provide a sense of accomplishment, encourage self-expression and teach new skills.

  • Provide choices

It is also possible to motivate autistic children when you allow them to select the stimulus activity, such as dancing or jumping. You can join them in with this activity until the child successfully makes eye contact or they communicate spontaneously.

  • Utilize positive reinforcement

When you are actively learning or providing therapy, prompting for another try after the wrong answer, or praising a correct choice will encourage a child to respond more often.

You can also use other types of reinforces to help children learn new skills. In some cases, children who suffer from autism are not able to be adequately motivated with traditional, social feedback. In these instances you will have to find a reinforcer that works for your child.

One way to find an effective reinforcer is to set out a number of different items and see which the child chooses. Take note of what they choose and how long they interact with that item. In most cases, the first item selected will be the most powerful reinforcing tool.

Once you have discovered the reinforcer that works best for your child, then you should deliver it directly after a correct response is give. Be sure that this is always paired with some type of verbal praise, such as “good job.” This will help them also understand the importance and effectiveness of verbal praise.

  • Cover new and familiar skills

It is important to keep learning fun and interesting for your autistic child. This means you should introduce both new activities and skills, as well as ones they are familiar with. While it is important to create a routine and sense of familiarity, studies have also shown that autistic children remain focused, give more right answers and are better behaved when the activities are varied.

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To illustrate, you might want to help them create motivational posters with inspiring quotes such as, “Smile” or “Be Awesome.” Then, as they look as these posters they will experience both inspiration and pride knowing they helped to make them.

  • Integrate sensory activities

Utilizing sensory based activities can help autistic children learn new skills more quickly. However, it is important to introduce these slowly to begin with in order to ensure it does not become sensory overload.

  • Use music therapy

There are a number of autistic children who can sing, even when they are unable to speak, and when you expose them to songs that have repetitive, simple phrases can help them to develop new language skills. Singing may also be beneficial in helping to eliminate monotone speech patterns and by learning to match various musical rhythms. It can also help to enhance a child’s social interaction by encouraging them to participate in a group activity, such as a music group or class.

  • Implement rewards

While reinforcers and rewards are similar, you can use rewards for good behavior, or a day of completed lessons. These rewards can be something that is given at a certain time of day, if they have completed the necessary tasks and activities.

Motivating autistic children is more difficult than those without the disorder; however, there are still a number of methods that can be used to do this successfully. When you read the information here and take some time to get to know your child better, you will be able to create a plan or strategy that can help to successfully motivate children that suffer from autism.

Be sure that you work with teachers for the child in order to ensure the same reinforcers or rewards are used, which will help the child better understand the verbal cues that go along with these items. This will help to further motivate your child and help them pick up on new skills much more easily.

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5 Things I wish I knew before Autism

Tamara Wood is a proud mother of two amazing boys. After searching for a solution for her son Alex, who is affected by Autism, Tamara found the AngelSense solution for her family. It gave her a great deal of peace of mind, and her enthusiasm for the company only increased – she joined the AngelSense team as a customer care specialist.

tamara's familyI am the mother to two wonderful little boys, one who has autism and one who is “normal” (whatever that is!). There are many things we didn’t know before we became parents, and even less when you hear a word like “autism.” There are somethings I wish I had known before my son was born, and I wish I could share them with every parent out there.

 

Insurance

Before autism, the most I cared to know – or needed to know – about insurance was copay, deductible, out-of-pocket, yada, yada, yada… I wish I had known all of the loopholes and red tape that can make your head spin concerning HPCPS and ICD-9 codes and all of those neat little “tricks” that you should really do to make your life easier. Like keeping track of who I spoke to and that gosh darnit they did say that! – this is more than just a good idea, it is crucial people! Or how a medical/insurance journal with a history of therapies, doctors, important health info, and bills is beyond just being organized; it is a savior of brain cells at those times when my brain hurts on marathon phone call days.

Acronyms

I wish I had known that I was going to be learning another language for school/therapy. ARD, AU, IEP, BIP, AT, ESY, LRE, OT, PT, ST, etc., just to name a few. Now these acronyms have been a part of our lives for almost 7 years and just slip off the tongue, but boy, can those ARD meetings be confusing when they are literally speaking a different language.

The AUsomeness of the autism community

I wish I had known going in that I was going to be a part of a very special group of families that are so free with advice, support, resources, and all around laughs to help you through. I can’t express how much of a release it is to talk to others that understand and can find the humor in our daily lives. Swapping public meltdown stories, how talented my son is at finger painting his whole room at 3am (that smell is not funny at 3am), and just being able to relax with others who “get it” is very important.

Romance

I wish I had known that the definition of romance was going to change. Finding an experienced sitter, having money, having time, and honestly just having the energy are just some of the factors. Romance in our house is my husband doing the dishes for me, helping each other clean up the 3am finger painting, being an eternal tag team for when the other has just had too much, and dates that are only retreating to another room to sit and watch TV because we just don’t have the energy to do much else. And finding that this can be enough.

The Box

I wish that I had known that thinking outside of the box was going to actually be the only way of thinking from then on. Our life is the equivalent of having a beautiful boy with the curiosity and development of a toddler and the physical ability of a 10 year old – for the past 8 years. This makes thinking about safety (and sanity) a very big part of our lives. Going out to eat, planning a date, going to the store, holidays, and even just rearranging the furniture require quite a bit of resourcefulness and thinking outside the box.

It has been a rough road at times, but I can’t imagine our lives any differently and I wouldn’t trade our kids for anything – we love them just the way they are. The autism community has brought me something else – recently, I have been blessed to be able to work from home in order to take care of him. And I am doubly blessed to be able to work for AngelSense, a company that helps us keep him safe by knowing where he is at all times and being able to listen to him throughout his day.

Founded by parents of special needs children, and employing other special needs’ parents, AngelSense provides so much peace of mind in so many ways. With the Guardian GPS device I can monitor my son through out his day, when he is out of our sight. I can check on him from my smartphone or the computer, and make sure he’s where I want him to be! Working for a company that understands me and my family has been just another example of the wonderful way we all support each other. I know so much now and hope that sharing my experience helps someone who might feel alone today.

Visit AngelSense at: https://www.angelsense.com.

 

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Explaining Autism

I realised something today about autism. I realised that despite spending the best part of a year immersing myself in all things autism, reading every book, blog and website about the subject possible,and despite living with a four-year old autistic boy, I still really struggle to answer the simple question, ‘what is autism?’

I’ve mostly been asked this question by relatives, but variations of it crop up from all sorts of places. I’ve even been asked at work, and I work in a school. I usually begin by telling them it is a disability and a condition that affects the brain. After that, I start to struggle.

It’s not that I don’t understand autism. Since my son’s diagnosis last March I’ve come a long way in learning about it both first hand and through educating myself. My son is four year’s old and in his first year at (mainstream) school. Our story is probably very typical: at around two and a half we grew concerned about speech, communication and general behaviour. The usual struggle for diagnosis, support, and educational provision followed.  In the process I came to learn about educational statements, speech and language therapy, disability living allowance, Specialist early year’s services, Sunderland tests, social stories and countless other things. I’ve read the books and I’ve been there at every step of my autistic child’s development. It’s all well documented in my blog which you can read here.

So my difficultly in explaining autism does not stem from a lack of understanding, ignorance or, I hope, problems in expressing myself. The truth of the matter is this: how can you possibly explain autism to a person in a way that will help them understand? That will truly help them to understand the condition. How can you possibly find the right words that will help them realise what autism is like for your child and for your family?

Asking or expecting someone to understand, to really understand, is unrealistic. That’s why it is so difficult to explain what autism is. I could tell them about the triad of impairments, about the lack of theory of mind and the sensory processing difficulties. I could reel off a whole load of information about the condition. But I doubt it would really tell them anything about my son. A wiser person than me wrote, “If you know one child with autism, you know one child with autism.” The condition is so varied, affects people in such different ways, that finding an adequate, all-encompassing explanation is, I think, impossible. How could a simple explanation ever help someone understand the roller coaster ride that is life with autism (both for the child and their family)? The only way to really understand autism, and the effects it has, is by living with autism.

It is the families who live with autism themselves who know what life is really like. I am lucky in that I have a great deal of support from my family and those around me. But they don’t understand. Sympathy is not the same as empathy. For us, the best support has come from reaching out to those in a similar situation, whether it be through support groups, social networking, or blogs. That is why blogs such as this one by Stuart Duncan are so important, and it’s why I blog too.

I’d like to thank Stuart and the other contributors to this blog. By writing about the condition from the ‘inside’, you are reaching out to those in a similar situation. I expect that many people out there have no one who they can really explain autism to. This blog helps them realise they are not alone.

B’s Dad

Life With an Autistic Son

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The Looks

(This piece appears in the recently published Anthology of Disability Literature)

Recently, my 12-year-old Alex kept trying to scoot through an open door in the basement of our neighborhood supermarket. The store wasn’t crowded and hardly anyone noticed me hauling him back to the checkout line except a young lady working the register. I saw her looking at Alex with the small smile and direct eyes that I’ve learned mean: She knows someone with autism. She stroked his head once.

The cashier might have stroked Alex’s head out of understanding the kind of life Alex is likely to have. Of course I wish she’d felt comfortable yelling at him, comfortable because he was normal and he shouldn’t be trying to run in the basement of a grocery store, comfortable in the way somebody might be yelling at Alex’s typically developing 9-year-old brother Ned.

They don’t yell at Alex in the pizza place, either. I take him there in the fragile hope that he’ll eat the cheese off a slice or two while he’s out of the house so Ned can get his English tutoring. Alex and I often take the table way in the back, and the first few times I did this I was scared he would bolt while I got the pizza. “We’ll keep an eye on him, buddy,” the guy behind the counter said.

Alex has received his share of looks – more outside of New York City (they positively stared in the Massachusetts malls), perhaps because people are used to seeing just about anything in New York and passing by without what appears to be an obvious thought. When Alex was still a baby on oxygen, some kids on a Queens sidewalk did ask, “What happened to that guy!?” That was nice; Alex was emerging from a year in the hospital, and it was good to think he’d ceased to be patient and had finally become some “guy” on a sidewalk.

People – at least the people I’d like to have around Alex – seem to need to think there’s something beyond vulnerability to those with autism. Something special or beneficial to society, or at least likable and warm, like the message of movies like Rain Man, lessons tied up in what Richard Yates disdainfully called “a neat little dramatic package.” Yeah, there’s autism. But they can count cards, too! Some of them can count cards. Some can paint. Some with autism can do all sorts of things, just like some of all of us can, and of course the verdict is still a long way off when it comes to Alex’s real abilities. I want people to stroke his head someday because he helped them, because he contributed in a way that brought him fulfillment at the end of his working day. And I want to live to see him get that. I call that my Hopeful Outlook.

–Jeff Stimpson

Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism

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Autism awareness? I live it every day

Not a lot makes me cringe more than seeing/hearing/reading a parent of a child with Autism say that they don’t bother with Autism Awareness Day/Month because they don’t feel they should tell others about Autism since it doesn’t affect them.

autism awarenessI’ve read more tweets and posts this month than I’d like to from parents giving a multitude of excuses why they haven’t gotten around to it, or haven’t bothered or feel that they simply shouldn’t attempt to raise awareness of Autism… and that’s kind of sad.

How can a person recognize the signs in their own child unless aware?

There’s a lot of debate within the Autism industry as to whether or not numbers have risen (at least in part) due to the fact that people are simply more aware of what to look for, recognize it earlier and thus, are more likely to get an official diagnosis.

There’s good reason for that debate.. it’s because it’s true that greater awareness is what leads to people being able to understand why their child won’t look them in the eye, doesn’t respond to their name, doesn’t talk yet, separates their blocks by colour and lines up their toys in a perfectly straight line across the living room.

Finding the support and information they need

After a diagnosis, most parents feel extremely lost as they’re put on waiting list after waiting list and worse than finding no answers, they find a lot of contradicting answers.

If you and I didn’t speak out, and speak loudly, they’d never find us. And if they never found us…. well then, they truly would be alone.

Waiting lists don’t explain to parents the benefits of weighted blankets, the gf/cf diet, the necessity for strict routines, how to handle IEP meetings and so on and so on.

Will your child forever be a freak or will people understand him/her better one day?

How can we expect parents to stop judging us and our children during those grocery store meltdowns if they never learn about Autism? How can we expect our childrens teachers to have more patience or even recognize the signs themselves? How can we expect more random people to step up and offer gymnastics, swimming, skating and other community type programs just for our children with Autism… simply because they want to help?

People won’t just look at your children differently… they’ll look at them as weird, freakish or even worse because if they’re not aware, what else are they supposed to think?

Conclusion

No, maybe the meltdown happening in your living room isn’t anyone’s business but that of your own family but that shouldn’t mean not raising awareness at all.

By not doing your part, you may be leaving one troubled child undiagnosed… you may be leaving one parent lost with no one to turn to… you may be letting some innocently ignorant person incorrectly judge another person, making them feel like a terrible parent.

Worse than all of that, you are indirectly affecting your own child’s future because one day your child will have to face those people you didn’t bother to share your burden with and those people won’t understand him/her. Those people will judge your child and judge them harshly.

They say that if one person recycles everything, little change is made in the world but if everyone recycles just one thing, a very significant change is made in the world.

Same goes for Autism Awareness. You don’t have to get on national television or scream from the rooftops… it’s not about invading people’s lives. It’s about sharing so that those that want to listen, those that want to hear it, those that seek it out… can find it.

You may live it every day and those you’re attempting to educate don’t… but maybe they will one day. And maybe, just maybe, your voice will be the voice that makes a positive impact on their lives that lasts a life time.

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