Motivating Children and the Path of Least Resistance

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By Dan Coulter

Trying to get your child with Asperger Syndrome to do his homework or chores before he plays his video games?

Good luck.

Scratch that.

If luck was involved, your child's special interest would be his homework. What you need is a way to motivate your child.

You say your attempts at motivating have fallen short? Okay, you may need to move on to manipulation. Yes, it's a word with negative connotations, but this is war. A war of wills, in which your child doesn't understand the long term consequences of his actions.

In a more serious vein, we're talking about developing a strategy to help your child acquire important life skills. The video game/homework struggle is just one example of judgment skills your child needs to develop to make his way in the adult world.

I'm a big fan of positive reinforcement, but sometimes successful positive reinforcement is about more than offering rewards. Maybe you've tried telling your child he can play his video game as a reward when he's finished his homework, but he see this as a punishment that he can't play his game if he punts the homework. Now you're in a power struggle. Homework's rewards are nebulous and theoretical to him. The video game fills his intense desires NOW. His brain chooses video games.

Here's a strategy you can try to change the equation and the way your child thinks about his options.

First, have a family meeting and discuss how everyone in the house spends his or her time. List and describe all the chores that have to be done in order for the people in your home to have the lifestyle they have. Who does these chores? How are family members spending their time? In many homes, mom and dad come out high on the list of chore-doers, and kids look like guests on a cruise ship. This also could be a parent/child one-on-one meeting if you feel that would work better for your child or with each of your children.

Seeing a list of things such as working at a job outside the home, cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, yard work, home repairs, paying bills, etc. may be the first time a child is confronted with what it takes to support his or her lifestyle. It may not immediately spur your children into wails of contrition and repentance, but it's a start.

Make it clear that everyone in the family has responsibilities. List some chores each child can choose from to make his or her contributions, and the rewards that those contributions earn. Giving a child some choices can help him become engaged in the process, and may distract him from the option you don't offer of not doing any chores. You may need to supervise his completing new chores until they become a habit.

At first chores might be as simple as cleaning a bedroom and taking laundry to the laundry room. And include the non-negotiable responsibility of doing homework. The responsibilities can grow as your child grows older, but it's important to show a child how his/her actions affect the family. I saw a story in our local newspaper the other day about a young athlete who came this country from Vietnam 4 years ago. He learned the language, is a top student, and supports his mom with a job after school. Now this is a special person, but I'm betting he was shaped by the way his choices were presented to him.

One of my chores growing up was to polish the shoes of all six people in our family Saturday night before church on Sunday. It was pretty obvious if I hadn't done my job and my family wore scuffed shoes to church, so I quickly fell into the polishing habit. And my folks did not shine the shoes for me if I forgot.

It's helpful to create a situation where doing what your parents want is a child's path of least resistance. If it makes life easier to do your chores than to not do them, many kids will take the easy way out. But that means parents have to construct scenarios where children are guided to do the right thing – and not “rescue” them when they don't step up. Kids with Asperger Syndrome tend to be logical. Why should they do their chores when there are no real consequences when they don't?

While an Asperger child's sense of logic can be your ally in convincing him to do as you ask, some Asperger children use their own versions of logic that are hard to fathom.

If that's the case in your house, it's a good idea to get input from teachers, family members, and others who know your child. Together, you may be able to construct a strategy that could work. You also might want to get ideas from an Asperger Syndrome support group, or consult a professional counselor who has experience with Asperger Syndrome and could offer solutions that have succeeded with other challenging children. As always, finding ways to use a child's strengths and interests in a motivation plan is a crucial step. It's unlikely you'll find a template that will work without tweaking. You'll almost certainly have to customize your strategy to fit your child.

Scientists have discovered that motivation is a key factor in reprogramming the human brain to overcome challenges that can be barriers to success. If we can discover the scenarios that help our children see how they can interact with the world to become more independent, successful, and happy, aren't those scenarios worth seeking?

This may just be the kind of your child will thank you for as an adult.

Hold that thought.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of 11 DVD's about Asperger Syndrome and autism, including "Understanding Brothers and Sisters with Asperger Syndrome;" and the book, "Life in the Asperger Lane." You can find more information on his website:

Copyright 2013 Dan Coulter Used by Permission All Rights Reserved

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