Most parents with teenagers will tell you they often have to remind their son or daughter to clean their room, finish their homework and do other necessary (but boring) tasks. This is especially true for teenagers with autism, who sometimes need constant reminders to fulfill all their obligations. But what happens when they become adults and mom and dad are no longer there to remind them to stay on top of daily tasks? Staying motivated and responsible for oneself is a skill essential to independent living.
Academic success also depends heavily on a student staying motivated and engaged throughout courses and semesters. Unfortunately, things like self-responsibility often don’t come naturally for teens with autism. This is because autism spectrum disorder inhibits a person’s range of interests and abilities, and thus their desire to remain engaged.
Thankfully, there is a lot of support out there. At Transitions, near Albany, New York, we offer support programs tailored to the unique needs of this young adult 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 now to set them up for later success.
Approaches to Increasing Motivation and Self-Responsibility for Teens with Autism
Adjusting the learning environment can have a significant impact on increasing motivation and self-responsibility for teens with autism. To create an environment conducive to success, consider implementing the following:
- Reduce visual distractions – de-clutter the room, eliminate unnecessary visuals such as posters or signs, etc.
- Reduce auditory distractions – decrease “mechanical” noise if possible, such as noise from heaters, computers, fans, etc.
- Use low-intensity lighting – natural light or non-fluorescent lights are most desirable
People on the autism spectrum often learn well through the use of visuals. The process of “seeing it” rather than hearing it can be helpful in processing and retaining information. Visual supports can be pictures, photos, drawings, written words, lists or objects. Visual supports help parents and teachers communicate with the student who has autism and, in return, can assist that student in communicating with others, asking questions and understanding instructions and/or assignments. The use of visual supports to aid in communication has become essential for increasing self-responsibility in teens with autism at school. They can be used to increase motivation as well. Even something as simple as an inspirational message on the wall can remind students of their responsibilities and inspire them to finish all their tasks.
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 such as eye contact and taking turns in conversations
- Break skills down into smaller parts and use visuals to help demonstrate them
- Pair the student with a peer who has strong social and communication skills for mentorship
Intrinsic rewards achieved after reaching small steps are also great for helping the brain feel motivated. For instance, if a student needs to study for a test, they should reward themselves with a one-hour television break after three hours of intensive studying.
It is also helpful to work hands-on with the student on identifying and working toward their goals. It is very difficult to motivate someone to do something they don’t truly want. Find the goals the student really wants to work toward and remind them of the long-term aspiration at stake during moments that are not fun, but necessary. For instance, if they are not feeling motivated to study, remind them that it is essential if they want to achieve their goal of going to college.
It is important to acknowledge that increasing motivation and self-responsibility for teens with autism is a process that will take time. But with consistency and ongoing engagement strategies, your teen with autism 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 near Albany, New York, call (518) 775-5384.
About the Author:
Priya Winston is a social worker and Self-Advocacy and Leadership instructor at Transitions. Since she was diagnosed with Turner syndrome and nonverbal learning differences as a teenager, Priya is uniquely equipped to give the Transitions students firsthand, personalized counseling on how to ask for and use accommodations to succeed at college and in the workplace. She received her Master of Social Work from the State University of New York at Albany in 2017 and is currently working toward her Ph.D. in Social Work.