Tag Archives | rewards

Children with autism that do well are rewarded with cut backs

An autism parent recently contacted me to ask if I knew of any high schools with special autism programs because she feels that she may be pulling her children out of the school that they’re currently in. Why? Because her son, whom is getting grades of around 80%, is at risk of losing his EA (education assistant) as well as the aides that help him to get his work done, such as a keyboard since he can’t write. Why are they taking these things away from him? Because he’s getting good grades. Why is he getting good grades? Because he has these things.

A similar scenario happened for me as my own son approached the age to go to school for the first time. In the beginning we were promised a special program but as we made progress with him, that was changed to him having an EA with him in class. The following year, we were informed that he’d get no assistance at all and would be put into a regular class.

We moved.

So why are good kids making good progress being punished? Funding. The government only gives a certain amount of money to these programs and then it’s up to these programs to figure out where the money has to go. That means prioritizing.

If your child is making good progress, then the funding is “reallocated” towards another child that isn’t doing as well and therefore needs that money more. It makes sense on paper. In the real world though, with real human beings, that sounds like those at the top are being punished. It’s clearly not as simple as “he doesn’t need it as much.”

This sounds pretty terrible already but what happens when the funding gets cut and is now lower than it was before?

This is basically happening everywhere but you likely won’t hear much about it. Locally, where I am in Ontario, it’s happening right now. And even though I can link this news story to prove it, I can also pretty much guarantee that no one in Ontario (aside from the schools) knows it’s happening.

“To lose educational assistants? Those people help the most vulnerable students, the kids with learning disabilities, the kids with autism, the kids that are struggling. It’s shameful that this is what the government is doing and that they sold the people the opposite bill of goods in the election campaign.”

People are losing their services as they age out (become adults), as they make progress and as the government decides it. Services that they really need! It feels a lot like  “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Unfortunately there’s very little we can do. Those people at those programs can’t do anything to help even if they wanted to, which I’m sure they do. But they can’t justify continuing to give your child that money when another child might need it more.

The only real answer is adequate funding. Which seems pretty silly with all of the attention that autism has had in recent years. Most of the states in the US now include autism therapies within their insurance plans, most everyone has heard of it by now and several schools even have specially dedicated autism programs. And yet governments continue to make cuts.

The take away? If you want your child with autism to continue having services, don’t let them do well. Because the reward for doing well is punishment.

And just in case you think this isn’t a very serious and very real problem, let me leave you with these from various places and various years:



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Turning obsession into good behavior

My boys each got handheld video games for Christmas, Cameron got the Nintendo DS and Tyler got a leapfrog. We knew that they’d like them but, as is the case with many children, they’ve become the subject of complete obsession. The first question in the morning is if they can play their games and it continues on until it’s the last question of the day.

If they had their way they’d be staring at those games through out the entire day.

Behavior ChartMy wife had the idea to get a large green piece of paper and make a chart for each of them. She filled the chart with all sorts of things from chores to bad behaviors and at the end of the day, we check to see what they did and didn’t do… for all the good things, they get a sticker, for the bad, they get an X.

An example of some of the chores would be putting dishes into the sink, tidying up their toys, making their beds… and some examples of the bad behaviors that made it onto the board are “no yelling”, “no hitting” and so forth. If at the end of the day, they didn’t fight, they get stickers. There are some good behaviors listed as well, of course, such as “playing nicely together” and “sharing”.

At the end of each day, we all gather at the chart and see what they did well and what they didn’t do or worse, got X’s on. The first day, Tyler cried when we asked him to turn off his game. Turning off their games without complaining is on the list. Well, for his outburst, he got an X.

Each day, when they ask to do something they like, such as playing their games, we review the chart for the day before. If they did well, then yes… they get some video game time. If they got X’s or missed a bunch of things, then they lose out on game time. That means they had better improve if they want to have game time the next day.

It’s an excellent lesson in cause and effect. I’m not sure this system will stay exactly as is but there’s no reason that this can’t continue on for many years… eventually moving on to dictating how much allowance they get when they’re older.

Hopefully, in time, it’ll sink in with them that their entire lives can be met with nice rewards if only they put in the effort in advance.

It’s definitely not a new system, I’m preaching to the choir by telling you all of this. I’m not trying to give you any new ideas, just let you know what we’re doing around the Duncan household these days. So far it’s been a huge success.

Oh, by the way, one thing I did want to mention though is that Cameron is 5.5 years old and Tyler is 3. Cameron has Autism, Tyler does not. This system can be started at any age really but I find that their ages right now are ideal.

It has especially been great for Cameron who so very desperately needs a good routine in his life. Not only does this give him a list of things to do each and every day but it encourages him to over come some of those basic Autism tendencies, such as hitting and meltdowns. When he begins to lose control, we remind him that he’ll get an X and lose out on game time tomorrow and it helps him to calm it back down.

The best part about it all, I think, is how proud they are each day of all the stickers they got for doing so well.

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A calm talk with my son about rewards, consequences and his behavior

As I have written about before, Fridays tend to be the worst day of the week for Cameron, every week he goes to school, deals with his little brother, has to deal with us parents and come Friday, his behaviour becomes a real issue.

This passed Friday was no exception, he woke up in a bad mood, being defiant and talking back to us in regards to just about everything. A simple request such as “Cameron, can you please put on your socks?” was met with him yelling back at us “No! I not go to school, I not put on my socks!”

ScreamingThere’s only an hour between his wake up time and the bus arriving but his defiant, lashing out behaviour was more than enough for me to send him to his room long before the bus arrived. He continued to yell back at me from the room.

I waited for only a minute before calmly walking in and sitting next to him on his bed.

I said to him “What good does it do for you to behave bad like this? Will it make me want to give you treats and let you play games?”

He shook his head “no”, without saying a word.

I then said “Today is Friday, which means that tomorrow you have no school. Do you think you’ll get to have lots of fun tomorrow by being really bad today?”

Again, he shook his head “no”.

I continued “Do you think I’d be happier and want to do more fun things with you this week-end if you were a good boy?”

He nodded his head “yes”.

Along the same path, I said “do you think being good at school today will mean having more fun this week-end?”

He nodded again, “yes”.

This was important, because without having ever said a word, he agreed with me that behaving good means having more fun, getting more rewards. He also recognized that behaving poorly meant getting less treats and less fun.

So finally I asked him “are you done being grumpy? Do you want to try hard to be good now so we can have a good week-end?”

He nodded “yes”.

We left his room and continued to get ready to go outside. While getting his snow pants on, he finally spoke, saying “Dad, I’ll be good today, I promise.”

Sure enough, he came home from school with a big smile, telling me that he had no thinking chairs (time outs). I checked his book (from his teachers) and they said that he must have really turned it around because he had a really great day at school. He listened well, he participated in everything and had no time outs.

Now, I recognize that this won’t change things for the rest of his life but it’s a huge breakthrough, one that I know can be repeated. He’s proven to me that he understands the consequences of his actions, even the ones he has little control over, such as his meltdowns.

And while he will still lash out and be defiant, at least now I know that I can work with him to get through it.

It’s hard sometimes, as parents, to stay calm and try the ‘logic’ approach rather than just letting them stay in their room for a while “to think about it”. It’s especially hard if your child has Autism and you have no way of knowing just how much they understand or can process. But it’s still worth trying anyway because you may just be pleasantly surprised… as I was.

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Rewards vs Punishments

Most every parent follows a very obvious pattern, when their child exhibits good behavior, they’re rewarded and when they exhibit bad behavior, they are punished.

The problem with this very basic concept is that it’s rarely ever balanced. In fact, many people fail to realize what a good balance even is. Rather than just suggest to you a percentage to try to achieve, I’d rather give you something else to think about… the consequences of each.


Rewards are often thought of as candy, treats, ice cream, a present, video game time, etc… the idea is that your child earns something that they really enjoy for a job well done. What some people fail to realize is that there’s another form of positive reinforcement that has an even stronger and longer lasting effect: pride.

Your children think the world of you, even if it might not seem that way sometimes. In fact, I would argue that your child sees you the same way that a deeply devoted religious Christian sees God. Giver of life, provider of food and shelter, rewarder, punisher, etc… when you think of that level of devotion and admiration, you can see just how incredibly important you are in their lives.

As such, you could shower your child in their favorite candy & toys and still never get even a fraction of the way to how they would feel if you just show them how proud you are.


Giving your child a timeout or grounding them is a great way to get the point across when your child does something wrong. The problem is that children are very adaptive and learn to cope with the things they come to expect often in their lives. We’ve all seen it happen in movies and stories, where even the worst case scenarios turn out poorly. A spanking parent or even one that outright beats their child as a constant punishment often loses their effect. The child toughens up and learns to just take it… making the punishment ineffective.

Much like rewards, the most effective punishment is to simply explain/demonstrate how disappointed you are in your child. This is what makes the time outs, groundings and even spankings effective at first. It’s a very clear way of showing your disgust with what they’ve done.

There’s a very real danger, however, of taking it too far. What often happens is that, as bad behaviors increase, the level of disappointment increases as well and parents find themselves saying outright hurtful things towards their own children. Many people think that children are more likely to stop a bad behavior the more they think that you’re embarrassed or disgusted by them. The truth is, however, that they’ll be more likely to repeat those behaviors.

After a while, they’ll begin to resent you, or worse… seek out those forms of attention as it’s the only form of attention they’ll get after a while.

The consequences of each

rewards punishments

Positive = Go. Negative = Stop.

Why am I not splitting this up to discuss the consequences of rewards and the consequences of punishments? Well, the fact is that the consequences of each are the same.

Whether you reward your child with pride or punish your child with disgust, they will forever seek out more of it and it will have a lasting effect on your child’s self esteem for life.

I can’t put it any simpler than that. Your pride will empower your child to continue being a great person, to seek out more pride from everyone around them. Your disgust will act as a beat down on your child, making your child feel like they can never amount to anything, will constantly be a negative person around people and never living up to expectations.

It sounds harsh but think about your own childhood. I bet you can vividly remember times when your parents were very disappointed or even disgusted with you. That very strong emotional response doesn’t go away. It stays with you for life.

Those that can’t remember anything but disappointment and disgust don’t grow up to become rich and famous. There’s no incentive to work hard if they’ll only be met with more disgust. Losing jobs and failing at everything becomes so common that it becomes expected. It’s just how it’s always been. It’s a progression that leads to misery.

Those that are always encouraged continue to excel and do better than they had done previously, as they seek out more of that pride. When you’re proud of your child for learning letters, they try hard to learn how to put letters together to read, because they want you to be proud of them again. It’s a progression that leads to excellence if you nurture it enough.

So what is the balance?

There is no magical percentage to strive for when balancing out your rewards and punishments, but there is one way to achieve it without even putting in much effort. Follow this one simple step:

Don’t forget the pride!

The problem that most parents face when they do have a child that they need to punish often, or when they’re simply too busy every single day is that they forget to show their children the proper pride.

Keep saying “great job!” or “you’re awesome!” even if it’s just to celebrate the little things. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be in celebration of anything. I like to tell my boys how great they are as I tuck them into bed. I either just reinforce the positive or I remind them of the good things they did that day.

Every single time you show your child some pride, there’ll be one less time you’ll need to punish your child… they’ll continue to seek out the positive.


People with Autism are especially sensitive to this as memories can stay with them from as early as 1 year olds. Those with Autism often struggle through out their entire lives trying to understand what is it they do right and what they do wrong to warrant the reactions from others. Something they do wrong, and get a harsh reaction from their parents, may have been something that they thought they were doing right. This conflicting sense of right and wrong will stay with them for a long time, maybe even for ever.

So your punishment may be right, but the only thing your child takes from it is a life long sense of not ever knowing how to behave.

For those with Autism, you need to be very careful with your rewards and punishments. With every word you say, good or bad, keep in mind that it will be remembered forever, and will impact the rest of their lives.

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