How to Use Rewards With Your Autistic/Asperger’s Child

Young boy with autism spectrum disorder or other neurodevelopmental challenge, sitting on the floor, playing with about 20 dinosaurs

Have you tried talking to your child and explaining why she needs to do what you ask, but find yourself saying it over and over? For example, have you tried explaining the importance of teeth brushing, but your child still avoids it, and even says she brushed them when she didn’t. No matter how much you reason with her, she just don’t seem to get it. So what do you do instead? Using rewards can work for anyone. For example, we go to work for the reward of getting paid. 

Autistic children often need additional motivation to do things they don’t want to do.

This is just the way it is. Accepting this will make life much easier. Letting go of “he should do it because I ask him to”, often improves the relationship between you and  your child, whether he/she is autistic, has Asperger’s, or other neurodiversity such as Down syndrome and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Rewarding your child can motivate him to do things that he doesn’t want to do. It’s a positive method that can get rid of tension between you and your child. Autistic children usually respond very well to rewards because it’s concrete, provides structure, and puts them in charge of getting what they want.

Eight points to keep in mind when setting up a reward program:

1.    Use rewards that are meaningful for your child that she does not get all the time. If it is something your child gets on a regular basis, such as being able to play video games, then rewarding with video games will have little effect. However, if video games are limited to a few hours on the weekend, earning an extra half hour during the week could be very motivating for your child.

2.    Your child may need an immediate reward. Especially for  younger children, children who are impulsive or who have cognitive delays, they may respond best to being rewarded immediately. It is important to figure out what works best for your child.

3.    If you child can wait to earn his reward, have him earn tokens, points, tickets, stickers, coins, etc. – when he does what you ask. Then, once he earns a certain number of points, he can exchange them something he wants.

4.    Have a clear reward, and what it takes to earn it.  For example, when she gets to 10 points, she can choose her favorite dinner.

5.    Using a chart or drawing helps your child keep track of what he is earning. This helps him stay motivated and know exactly what he needs to do to get what he wants. Using strategies such as collecting marbles in a jar often doesn’t work for very long, because it takes a long time to earn the reward, and it’s a vague and inconsistent amount of marbles. This website offers free printable behavior charts.

6.    If possible, have your child participate in setting up the reward program.

7.    Keep it positive. Once your child earns something, do not take it away.

8.    Change up the program from time to time to keep your child interested.  As your child’s behavior improves, you can make it a little harder to earn the reward, for example, having her earn 15 points instead of 10 in order to go to dinner. Or, you can fade out the points as she becomes more cooperative, so that the rewards become more natural, such as allowing her to go out and play when her homework is done.

Reinforcement programs can be very effective, but can also be tricky to make them effective. You may need to seek the help of a professional if the behavior problems are very persistent, frequent, and especially if there is a risk to health and safety.
Contact us if you have questions, or need assistance in determining the best way to reward your child.