I've spent the last two weeks focusing on motivation. How do I motivate an Autistic teenager to want to participate? How do I guide him to 'choose' to do something that is almost always challenging?
Alex's sensory processing issues, difficulty with speech, puberty and being a teenager affect his daily abilities. His can be supported with schedules, choice, sensory supports and flexible programming but it doesn't change the fact that sometimes getting up and facing the day is a huge task in itself and it's followed by another day...and another.
I've been reading articles on Autism and motivation I found this post at TeenAutism.Com, it did a nice job explaining the basic structure of motivation. Tanya explains that when your young you use Extrinsic Motivation, it's a fancy way to say you earn rewards or face consequences from others based on your performance. It also means that someone else (me) is in charge of delivering rewards. It's pretty much the way I've structured Alex's days since he was diagnosed.
When you approach adulthood, hopefully you move towards Intrinsic Motivation, you work without immediate rewards delivered by another person. You work because you understand the value of work. You work because you take pride in helping others or you value participating in a community, maybe you collect a paycheck but the reward isn't directly tied to the completion of the daily task. You work because you choose to.
Alex seems to be in a space between the two, after years and years of schedules and rewards he's avoiding things that looks like Extrinsic Motivation, and this since I've been the one to hand over most of the rewards my input is also being avoided. He wants control over his day and his rewards. I understand his response. Under the Autism or maybe I should say along with the Autism is a fully formed person that wants what to live his life without someone always telling him what's happening next. He realizes he's different, that his Autism affects his abilities but it doesn't change the fact that he wants more control.
If he's going to become independent he has to want to become independent. I can't make him want it, but hopefully I can point out the path that gets him there.
Every day seems to present a slightly different Alex. Today he's balanced, happy and up for participating but it's followed by him putting himself to bed at 8pm (yep folks, the kid that barely slept for the first 10 years of his life puts himself to bed at 8). The next day, after 13 hours of sleep, he refuses to get out of bed, he's a silent rock. He's made a decision and he's not budging. After 12 years of schedules/rewards, he KNOWS not going to school or work has consequences, he's made a decision, he'd rather stay in bed than get any rewards.
So what's the response? Well, I'm trying to figure that out. The first thing I did was take myself out of the picture in the mornings. Alex doesn't seem to want to get up for me so I asked his dad to take over mornings. Alex hasn't been happy to get out of bed but he's done it with almost not resistance. Dad walks in, says "It's time to get up." and 5 minutes later Alex is up and dressed. I'm actually pretty shocked at how fast things changed when I took myself out of the situation. I'm calling this the teenage elephant effect. Do teenage males seem to respond to older males in a way that, well, just seems to work? It's making me wonder if I need to cut down on the adult female instruction for a bit. Anybody with a kid in Special Ed knows that it tends to be dominated by females, maybe this is an issue that needs to be looked at when were talking about adolescent Autistic males.
I also created the "Today I feel..." chart. My hope is that Alex can tell me how he's doing, if it's an overloaded day he understands that he can opt out of the day. More importantly, he see's that we get it. Some days things everything is a challenge, if he wants to opt out he can. My dream scenario? That would be the day he's almost overwhelmed but he chooses to give work/ school a shot. That would be a example of Intrinsic Motivation success.
So I'm allowing for overloaded days when 'nothing happens'. Right now every 5th day seems to be a shutdown day. Sensitive and overloaded days come with a matching pouch that has sensory aids.
Will this lead to Intrinsic Motivation? Who knows? I'm hoping it does. What I do know is that I'm not punishing him for having a rough day. That's always my second goal, don't punish the sensory system for not working.
The long term goal for Alex is independence. That's what I keep coming back to when things get complex, and it's complex right now. This feels like the hardest goal I've tackled but it's THE goal, the one that gets Alex to the finish line.