How To Motivate an Autistic Teenager

5 Jul by Transition USA

How To Motivate an Autistic Teenager

Staying motivated and engaged are vital aspects of academic success for all students. Unfortunately, things like self-responsibility and motivation don’t come naturally for teens with autism. This is because autism spectrum disorder inhibits a student’s range of interests and abilities, and thus the desire to remain engaged. Thankfully, there is a lot of support out there. At Transitions, we offer support programs tailored to the unique needs of this population. But if your teen has yet to graduate high school, there are still many engagement strategies for autism spectrum disorder you can turn to. 

Approaches to Increasing Motivation and Self-Responsibility for Teens with Autism


Making adjustments to the learning environment can have a significant impact on increasing motivation and self-responsibility for teens with autism. In creating an environment conducive to success, the following should be considered:

  • Reduce visual distractions – de-clutter the room, eliminate unnecessary visuals (such as posters or signs),
  • Reduce auditory distractions – decrease “mechanical” noise if possible (i.e. – noise from heaters, computers, fans, etc.)
  • Use low-intensity lighting – natural light or non-fluorescent lights are most desirable

Visual Supports

Individuals on the autism spectrum frequently learn most efficiently with the use of visuals. The process of “seeing it” rather than hearing it is often helpful in processing and retaining information. Visual supports can be pictures, photos, drawings, written words, lists, or other objects. Visual supports help parents and teachers communicate with the student with autism and, in return, can assistthat student in communicating with others (parents, teachers, peers, etc.), asking questions, and understanding instructions and/or assignments. The use of visual supports to aid in communication has become essentialtools for increasing motivation and self-responsibility for teens with autism in school settings.

Social skills training

A core aspect of increasing motivation and self-responsibility for teens with autism is social skills training. Social interaction and communication skills play an important role in educational outcomes and students with autism tend to experience deficits in this area. These deficits are often misunderstood as a lack of desire for social interaction or support, when in reality this is rarely the case. While there are numerous approaches to social skills training, starting small is advisable.

  • Reinforce what the student does well socially by using behavior-specific praise
  • Model acceptable social behavior (i.e. – eye contact, taking turns, etc.)
  • Break skills down into smaller parts and use visuals to help demonstrate skills
  • Pair student with peer who has strong social skills and communication

It is important toacknowledge that increasing motivation and self-responsibility for teens with autism is a process and will take time. Yet, with consistency and ongoing engagement strategies for autism spectrum disorder, your teen can have the best chance for academic success. 

To find out more on ways to support your teen with autism or to learn about Transitions programs, call (518)775-5384.

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