“Motivation will almost always beat mere talent.

-Norman Ralph Augustine

Most of the professional world approaches working with children on the spectrum by using external motivations, in other words with toys, candy, videos, computer games etc. Really what we are talking about is, with-holding something that a child wants until they do a specific task or fulfill a request before receiving said “motivator”.

I am not saying there is no use or place for this, but make no mistake, when it comes to teaching a child to be social external reinforcement has a few inherent flaws:

  • You’re setting up a dynamic where your child experiences people in a “transactional” way instead of an “interactive” way. (read more here)
  •  You’re teaching your child that social interaction is getting in the way of what they REALLY want. (it’s a chore)
  • It’s not self sustaining. Meaning that children can be become dependent on something outside themselves to be socially communicative instead of tapping into their internal desire to be social.
  • External motivation brings a child’s focus to a thing rather than a person. New exciting toys, video games, or electronics create competition for your child’s attention.

To really teach children to be social communicators you have to help them fall in love with interaction. They need to grow an internal motivation to initiate social communication. We help them do this by becoming the motivation ourselves, we need to be the central focus or at least add value to whatever the activity is. By doing so my child begins to associate fun and usefulness with people. I want my child thinking about how much fun they have when they are interacting with me. I want to leave them wanting more.

I know I’ve done my job well when a child is dragging me back to their playroom or parents report that their child seems to be more connected and spontaneously seeking out people more often.

Do your best not to rely only on external motivators, try and save that for doing actual chores or other things that just need to get done. When it comes to play and interaction let it grow from shared enjoyment. Play is it’s own reward!



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