Motivation is not easy to come by. Whether it’s getting yourself to the gym or forcing yourself to study, work late or read a book, it can be very difficult to find the motivation to complete tasks you don’t consider enjoyable. For children, this is even more challenging as they tend to lack the self-discipline skills we pick up in adulthood. If your child is on the autism spectrum, there can be a variety of things affecting their ability to stay motivated besides just being a kid.
In this post, we’ll talk about how autism can impact motivation and the ways to work with your child to keep them motivated on the tasks they need to be.
The Motivation Challenge
If your child expresses they don’t want to do something, there’s a reason. For children on the autism spectrum, these reasons can include a variety of factors. Most children on the spectrum will have an incredibly difficult time participating in activities that they decide are not of interest to them. We call this the motivation challenge.
Before drilling down to consider why your child might be unmotivated to complete a task you deem important, be sure to stop and consider how your expectations match up with your child’s developmental age. Though the task may seem appropriate for a child of the same biological age, children on the spectrum tend to have developmental delays that can slow their cognitive or motor development. This is especially true if they are not in an early intervention program or receiving ABA therapy services.
Those developmental challenges can affect the way your child works on tasks, and may not necessarily mean they’re unmotivated. Keeping this in mind will help you better differentiate the source of the motivation challenge. Your child may be unmotivated for some of the following reasons:
- They think differently. Individuals on the spectrum may not understand the task being assigned to them or why it would be important. In that case, the motivation challenge is less about defiance or listening and more about a lack of true understanding.
- They might lose focus or not remember the instructions given to them. Many children on the spectrum will have attention and focus issues that cause them to lose sight of the task at hand.
- The task can give them anxiety or an unpleasant sensory experience. Children on the spectrum have plenty of sensory sensitivities and they can quickly learn what kind of tasks or sensations will give them anxiety.
These can be a few of the root causes of why your child might be unmotivated to complete tasks like school work, chores or other familial and important commitments. Once you understand the motivation challenge, you can develop a plan to address it.
Addressing the Challenge
Just like the root challenge, the solution can run deep and take plenty of planning, resources, and most importantly: time. Try some of the following to address the motivation challenge:
- Get on their level. Since children on the spectrum think a little differently and may have issues understanding the task at hand, do your best to communicate with them at a pace and method that works for them. Break the task down to several steps and pieces and gradually introduce each one, explaining the step’s importance. Give yourself time to plan this out and give your child plenty of space and time to understand the what and why. Reward them as they accomplish each step and move in the right direction.
- Setup consistent reminders. If the challenge lies with remembering or attention and focus, give your child plenty of reminders throughout their daily routine in the form of communication that they understand best. Be it visual or auditory or both, these reminders can help keep their attention and focus while teaching them to remember important tasks.
- Talk through anxiety or other root causes. If your child seems anxious or uncomfortable about the task given to them, talk with them to figure out what about the task is the source of their anxiety. If possible, find ways to reduce your child’s exposure to that stimuli or at least find strategies to cope with that anxiety. If the task is school related, get teachers or counselors involved as needed.
There’s no perfect way to address the motivation challenge, but working with your child is crucial. Often neurotypical adults and peers will be quick to criticize or even berate individuals on the spectrum for “laziness” or their inability to see things through or complete certain tasks. In reality, people on the spectrum just think a little differently, and as such, might not be motivated by the same things as their peers.
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