On October 19, Dr. Gina Cosgrove presented “Executive Functioning: Strategies to Support Individuals with Autism and Related Challenges” at Transitions’ “Strategies to Build Independence for Students with Autism, ADHD and Other Learning Differences” conference. Her presentation covered the basics of how to evaluate a student’s executive functioning needs and reviewed research-based strategies to help with planning interventions and implementing them in different settings. We would like to share what we learned from Dr. Cosgrove in this series of posts.
Teaching the Skills: Motivational Systems
While a person should never be trained to rely on rewards to perform any behavior, it may be necessary to create a motivational system to jumpstart learning. You won’t necessarily have to build in lots of rewards and consequences right off the bat, but having some system in place may help get the individual moving. Try to build motivation into the task as much as possible, using naturally occurring things in the day. For example, say an individual has a couple hours of free time between school and dance class. If you assign them to clean their room within those free hours, a motivation is already in place – there is a clearly defined end in sight and afterward they get to go to a class they enjoy – and on the other hand, if they don’t get the task done, they may not be able to go to the class they enjoy.
Be sure to teach the individual self-reward. The key to self-discipline is that work comes first, and then play comes after. The promise of self-reward alone can be enough to motivate someone to get something done. Encourage the student to set goals for themselves that they get rewards for afterward, using pictures if possible. Teach the student to be kind to themselves, praise themselves and recognize their achievements when called for with stickers, stamps, visual cues and kind, motivational notes to themselves. Make sure they do this for themselves rather than relying on aides for the reinforcement.
Use extrinsic rewards sparingly. It isn’t good to set an expectation that the person will get a treat as a result of doing something that is expected of them if it’s not strictly necessary. A good alternative is to use events or activities as rewards if possible, as opposed to gifts or the like.
We hope these tips and strategies are helpful to you. Good luck!