Friday, November 21, 2008

Star Reward System for Autistic Kids

Meghan will be coming home today for an entire week stay. As I am running around the house cleaning and doing errands to welcome her home, I’m thinking how happy I am to have her home for her first full week in 4 months, but I am also worried, too. I’m worried that she will get too used to being home for the week that it will be much harder for her to get back on routine. Meghan is profoundly autistic and it is usually very difficult and time consuming to motivate her in doing almost anything: getting her up and dressed; taking a shower; going out on a car trip; eating at a restaurant. I was visiting one of my favorite blogs, Teen Autism, and her most recent post was about "how to motivate autistic kids." Fitting, right? It reminded me that in addition to her visual communication book (or pecs), of which she has one for home and a few for school, we also have instituted a star reward system. Even though we pleasantly set-up her face-board of activities for the day that she must follow using these pictures (simple use of velcro on the face of a three ring binder), she usually takes the pictures off and replaces them with pictures of things that she'd rather do. Hence, our difficulties in motivating Meghan.

Even though this is her little game of obtaining power and being very stubborn, it could still take up to an hour just to get her to fulfill the first activity on the board, like taking a shower. School has developed this star reward program to use to “motivate” her to, not only, to take a shower, but to get to it within a reasonable amount of time.

How it works:

There is a velcro section on the face of her communication notebook for little pictures of stars. (just like for her other communication pictures). Every time we need her to do something, like taking a shower within a certain period of time, then she will get a star velcroed to the face of her communication book. After she earns a certain amount of stars (we have her earning 5), then she will get a reward, like TV time, because she loves to watch TV or a video. It is recommended that you start off with only a few stars—like three, so that the child will see rewards more quickly to understand how the system works.

This is working for us so far, but it is not a guarantee for a long period of time--at least it wasn’t for us. We had actually tried this reward system once before, but after a period of time, it stopped working for her. Meaning that she was no longer motivated to earn her rewards and was content to just sit in her room all day without rewards. But this is just the personality and nature of my daughter, the most stubborn one in our house. But clever too!

So we are trying it again and if it stops working, then we try something else.

My other son, Nick, doesn’t even need a reward system. He does everything I ask him to do: Takes a shower when told, will get dressed when asked, takes out the trash, gets the mail out of the mailbox, cleans his room. He is just a boy who likes to do what he is asked to do to please us. I actually think he likes being told what to do, even though he plays up the whole “doing work” thing with a loud groan, but then does it with a smile on his face. Funny, huh?

You know what psychologists say, most kids like to be put to work as it makes them feel useful contributing to the household … I must say, even Meghan will help with cooking and emptying the dishwasher on occasion w/o even being asked.


Anonymous said...

You'd better hope that NECC's systems work for her within NECC residential or trust me, they'll ship her off to Rotenberg. Hypocrites is right! How many times has NECC bashed that place yet it is now a known fact they refer kids right over there after they fail them. Nice dedication they have to the kids.

Both Gina Green and Brian Iwata are hypocrites because they both have been affiliated with the New England Center for Children (NECC), which is even worse than the J. Rotenberg Center (JRC). At NECC they have a staff-intensive unit for children with self injury - the problem is that most intakes into the staff intensive unit come from other least restrictive units at NECC. That means that they are the ones reinforcing self-injury. Then after they have built up a huge history of reinforcement for these behaviors over the years, and the kids become bigger and the behaviors less manageable, who do they call to take these children? - The Judge Rotenberg Center.
Posted by:VinnieSeptember 8, 2007 1:50:12 PMRespond ^

Christina Shaver said...

I hope your system work while she's back home! Evan has a similar system at ABA.

But, what his behavior analyst adds -- that Evan does great with -- is a picture schedule. He picks the activities and velcroes them to the page. Then they set the timer and do the activities for whatever time they have.

As soon as he started visualizing his schedule like this, he had almost no need for the start chart. (Or in his case, soccer balls!)

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Hi Holly,

Thanks for the link! This is a great post you've written about using PECS and other visual cues for motivation and scheduling. We used that for years with Nigel when he was non-verbal.

And you're right about rewards only working for a period of time. Even though Nigel has been verbal for a few years, I still find that I need to "renegotiate" with him when he gets tired of the reward system (like getting an allowance - he still doesn't care about that, and will gladly go without it until he discovers a new Lego set that he wants to have. Then he's motivated to do what it takes to get the allowance!) Ah! Creative parenting!

I hope all goes well during your week with Meghan. I'll be thinking of you.

babs m said...

Our son in 7th grade has Asperger's and is having a very difficult time socially. He can't seem to control his impulse to lash out at kids who don't do what he wants them to. Two detentions so far this month--and he is ABSOLUTELY impossible to motivate. He can rationalize anything. The OT suggested making him do push-ups. He hates it and makes a huge production, wailing and crying and tossing himself on the floor, to the point it's more trauma to me to watch. *sigh* But maybe he'll have better arm strength. Maybe. Good luck!

Holly Nappi Collins said...

I think I will get the timer out too, it's a good idea!

Meghan used to have to clean up the classroom when she had a behavioral meltdown because she didn't like doing it. Doing push-ups seems a bit harsh--maybe you and your school can come up with a star system like this one--to earn rewards for not lashing out? Worth a shot!

Yes, creative parenting is absolutely right!!

autismfamily said...

Fitting that I had read Tanya's article before coming to yours. This was yesterday and I posted both on twitter yesterday and had to reboot and do other things and never got around to leaving a comment.

Where is Meghan now? I have to read more often to keep up. Anyway I have eyebox tool pics too. Matthew seems to prefer the Go talk 9+ communication device. His teacher has him press for help when he shows the teacher he needs his shoe tied.

Hope your family has a nice Thanksgiving weekend.

You need to join twitter so you can take part in my autism twitter day on Dec 16th. My id is autismfamily there as well.

Holly Nappi Collins said...

Thanks Bonnie,

I'm on twitter and I have seen your link and I believe I'm following you as a friend. I know about your event and think it's a great idea. I will be staying tuned.

unbridled1313 said...

I know this is five years later, but I have this same problem with my ten year old. Currently today she is still refusing to move to get out of bed for school. It is 10:48. She is over 150lbs so I can't just pick her up and toss her in the truck, lol. We too have tried all sorts of sticker/reward charts. Nothing ever seems to hold after 2 weeks... Well, I just wanted to say thank you for this post, although I am rather late finding it :)