How to Effectively Stimulate the Learning Motivation of Children with ASD

One of the most important sources of learning motivation is reward. Rewards are not necessarily food or toys. It can also be games, activities, attention, escape, satisfaction, peer recognition, etc. Rewards can promote effective learning, but to use rewards effectively is not as easy as it says. It requires knowledges and skills, especially applying for children with ASD.。

Firstly, rewards don’t have to be the things we normally think that children would love.

Considering the limited interests and limited communication skills of children with ASD, we need to observe and analyze their behaviors carefully when choosing effective rewards.

Taking toys for rewards as an example, you could observe if the child reaches out to grab the toy actively, expresses happiness, or shows reluctance or resistance when the toy is taken away. If the child displays no reaction or refuses to accept the toy when you pass the toy to him or her, then it is not an effective reward, no matter how valuable we think this item is or how much the child liked it before.

Teaching Tips:

The timing of giving rewards is critical.

(1) For children who have just started to communicate verbally, to encourage them to speak more, we should give them rewards immediately when they speak.

For example, if they have requested the toy they wanted, we should give them the toy immediately, letting them understand the power of speech and improve their motivation to speak.

On the contrary, if they couldn’t get the toy after speaking for a moment or two, they will learn that speaking is useless. If they have tried other methods, like screaming, and got the toy, even our intention was to give out the reward after they have spoken, but since the reward was delayed, they would assume screaming is the effective communication way.

Teaching Tips:

(2) For children with ASD who have a certain degree of speaking ability, they might take advantage of the power of speech and make many different requests all day long. Since we cannot satisfy all their requests immediately, some parents and teachers would rather stay quiet or shift their focus on other matters.

However, when children with ASD found that speaking does not achieve their wants and being quiet is not likely to get obvious benefits, they may start to display their dissatisfaction through behaviors like disobedience, complaints or screaming, etc. When things become difficult to control, teachers or parents might offer a bride, for example, ‘I will buy fries if you are well-behaved.‘ or ‘You can play with the computer if you keep quiet.’

Seemingly, the usage of bribery not only resolves the children’s behavioral problems instantly but is also easy to apply, even for people without professional training.

However, potential risks are hidden behind these benefits: if bribery is always offered right after the behavior problems, then these behavior problems will be strengthened conversely. Children with ASD may learn that no positive attention or benefits will be achieved when they are compliant. Only disobedience or screaming could get generous benefits from parents and teachers.

Teaching Tips:

In summary, to effectively stimulate the learning motivation of children with ASD, not only does it acquire great skills in applying rewards, but also needs to constantly evaluate and adjust the situation based on the children’s reactions and behaviors.

If parents or professionals could apply the above techniques with good judgments, I believe that the learning motivation of children with ASD can be greatly stimulated and improve their learning efficiency.


Information provided by:

Raymond Fung, M.S. ABA, BCBA (Autism Partnership Training Director)
Raymond Fung Raymond is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis from St. Cloud State University, and currently pursuing his doctoral degree at the University of Bristol in education. Raymond was the clinical director of 2 AP international offices, a conference chair of Hong Kong Association for Behaivor Analysis (HKABA), and a part-time lecturer of a master program of ASD in the Open University of Hong Kong. For over 20 years, Raymond has been teaching individuals with ASD of different ages and functioning levels in 1 on 1, group and school settings at Autism Partnership under the on-going training from Dr. Ron Leaf and his associates. Since 2004, he has been specializing in professional training for therapists, supervisors, schoolteachers, and parents internationally. In 2014-15, Raymond developed 6 mobile applications for individuals with ASD. He consults in China, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Korea, South Africa, and Russia. Currently, he is the training director of AP Hong Kong, and the voluntary consultant of AP Foundation. Raymond has been actively promoting autism awareness and effective treatment by conducting workshops, writing articles for his 2 columns, and hosting a radio program.

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