Tip: Teaching Life Skills – Motivation & Cooperation

Schedules seem to be the best way to keep motivation and cooperation throughout the day. Kids on the spectrum learn sequentially, and retain information sequentially and love to stick to schedules of their own making. They also love to watch the same movies over and over again much later in life than other kids. It thrills them to anticipate a favorite part, know when it’s coming and when it actually happens.

Many parents and grandparents struggle with the internal schedules and sequences of the kids with autism, because not sticking to a schedule will lead to much unhappiness on the part of the child or a huge tantrum / meltdown.

For example, you may have developed a habit of taking the kids to McDonalds after school, and you take a certain route to get there. Today, it occurs to you to pick up dry cleaning on the way. The dry cleaner is one street over. The meltdown might start as soon as you get off the regular route.

Another example, you tell your verbal grandson that you will stop for French fries, but first you have to go to the cleaners. After you leave the house, you decide you need to pick up some milk on the way. As soon as the boy notices that you are not on the route to the cleaners, the protest starts.

The same system that causes all this drama can be used to gain motivation and cooperation. All you have to do is make the schedule first, share it with the child and stick to it. You have them verbalize what comes next, or point to the picture of what comes next. If they protest, you show them the schedule and say “Look, it’s time to brush teeth” or “Look, it’s time to put the clothes in the dryer”.

Try to do things without rewards, because it breaks the pace of learning, and puts the focus on the reward instead of the activity. The same thing happens if you say “good job” after each “baby step”. It gives them the idea they do not have to go on, or it’s time for a break. It is best to just re-focus them on the schedule / task.

Videotaping Or Picture Taking As Motivator

I found that videotaping the kids on the cell phone to show mommy and daddy works with kids on the autism spectrum as well as other kids. I typically say, “I’m going to videotape this for mommy and daddy”, and then start the tape while I give instructions and the child is doing whatever they are supposed to do, or not, in which case I correct and redirect. Then I show the video to the child right after the task was completed. They are always interested. I show the video to the parents in front of the child, when they come to pick up the child. Since I use the cell phone while I am interacting with the child, sometimes the videos show walls or darkness if there is a spill or some other accident, but I keep the video rolling and go back to good picture framing when the crisis is over.

What if I cannot get their attention when I say their name?

Sometimes, the kids are zoned out, their eyes are open but they look like they are not seeing. To shake off this state, you get them up and doing some exercises. It could be running in place, dancing, or tickling. If you cannot rouse them with their favorite activities, postpone the lesson. They have to be able to focus for any learning to happen.

Why is exercise important?

Unless your grandchild is one of those in constant motion, he/she will have to be prodded into physical activity. Physical activity is important for growth, strength, proper chemical distribution and manufacture throughout the body. This is true of all of us, and applies to grandchildren as well. Children who have plenty of exercise will be able to focus on what you want to teach them. So any chance you have to take them to the park, skating, gymnastics, beach, river, pool or some other water attraction – do it. They always say no, until you’ve taken them several times and they are used to it.

How To Use Schedules

I cannot overemphasize schedules or the importance of making a schedule specific to the child. For younger children or those who cannot read, you can make schedules of pictures. Please remember that your grandchild will be dependent on schedules throughout his/her life. Deviation from schedules is disorienting for people with this disorder and could
lead to total collapse for the rest of the day. This could lead to extreme levels of stress and inability to move forward with anything. Think of it as a silent meltdown.

Parents and grandparents used to spend hours on making visual schedules by hand. Now, you can make them on the iPad or the computer. When you look at the websites below, you will see examples of how others use schedules. This will help you construct your own.

Here are some websites which make it easier for printable schedules.

Visual Schedules for Autistic Children

Reminder Strips

Here is an example of an electronic schedule

Visual Schedule Planner