How do you Teach Motivation?

This was my last blog for Hopeful Parents. Enjoy!

The lives of parents with children on the autism spectrum are very busy. They spend hours and hours researching and finding the treatments that would be most appropriate for their child. They schedule meetings with doctors and professionals. They spend a lot of money on therapists. They arrange playdates, and they taxi their child to appointments. They hope that what they're doing will eventually prove to be worth the time, money, and energy.

This was my life when Jacob was young. Now he's 17 and by all accounts doing well. He started at public high school this year and there have been no issues. His report card came back with good grades. All of his teachers say he's engaged and active in the classroom. So I guess all the hours of driving, researching, and meetings have paid off. Or have they?

When I look at Jacob, I see a young man with so much potential. When he puts his mind to something, he'll do it. To make sure he'd be engaged at his new school, I offered a $100 bribe, ops, sorry, I meant to say a "positive reinforcement", if he got straight A's on his first report card. And this seems to be working: on his mid-semester card, he got As and Bs. All of his teachers gave him enthusiastic remarks about his efforts in class. He hasn't expressed it in words, but I think he's proud of himself because he's working hard and getting good grades.

But would have happened if I hadn't dangled a hundred-dollar bill in front of him? Would he have worked as hard to get the good grades if he wasn't being rewarded for it? Is the simple pleasure of doing his best and taking pride in his work something he can't do without getting something in return?

In the early years of Jacob's diagnosis, the exercises and assignments that therapists and teachers gave me were easy to implement. Speech objectives, sensory exercises, and homework help, no sweat - just tell me what I need to do and I'll make sure it's done. Play with Jacob for 1/2 each night to help him develop imaginative play - check, done. Put pillows on Jacob and apply pressure to help calm him - no worries, I've go it covered. Book report due next month - fine, we'll start reading together each night to make sure that it's completed on time. But an activity to help him with motivation? No therapist is giving me an assignment to help him meet this objective.

For me, this is one of the most frustrating things about having a child on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum. As a parent, how do you teach your child to be motivated to do well in life? How do you teach a teenager to want to investigate their world instead of being content to stay home & watch movies all day? How do you teach your child that the rewards of helping others is something money can't buy?

Of course, I know I can't teach motivation to Jacob. This is something he'll have to develop on his own. So I guess a better question is how do I help Jacob develop motivation? I'm doing my best to set a good example, hoping some of it will rub off. But I'm not sure this is the type of thing that works by osmosis.

Only time will tell if Jacob is able to master the motivation objective.


  1. I will eagerly stalk this entry to see if anyone has any wise words on this topic.


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