How Marissa Earned Her Shoes

Part of this blog is something I wrote for a local autism support group called Autism Support of West Shore last year. Positive motivators are still a big part of our life, that I wanted to share it with our community as well. I hope you enjoy it and it is helpful for you!

It was time to go to school and our daughter with autism wanted nothing to do with leaving the house. “I’m not going,” she yelled over and over as loud as she could. Our process is always the same, if you get your shoes and coat on right away without putting up a fight, then you get a treat in the car. (We will call this Positive Motivator #1). Normally, this works well for her and she will come after a couple reminders of this treat that is waiting for her.

That morning however, it was not going to work. Next we give her a choice, would you like to ride on my back or would you like to walk?  (Positive Motivator #2)  She wanted nothing to do with any of our motivators and at that point I was at my wits end to determine what our next course of action was.

We ended up having to physically bring her to the car. She told us she was going to punch her brother as soon as she got to the car, she told us that she would not be going to school, and something else that I will not repeat. Have you been there – at that moment where you just want to give up and throw in the towel? I was there. I almost asked my husband to bring one of the kids to school because I feared for my son’s safety. Not joking!

Instead, I took a moment (we need those often in our house) and thought up another plan. In comes Positive Motivator #3. We get her in the car and because she is kicking anything and everything, I take off her shoes so it at least hurts a little less when she kicks me in the side. Then I tell her that she needs to earn her shoes back. This was very motivating to her because she hates to walk outside or even in the basement without shoes on her feet and it happened to be raining this day. If she wants to wear shoes into school, she would need to get 5 points by acting politely, no aggression or yelling on the ride to school. I used my hand (I had to be a quick thinker and had no token boards or charts) and she had to earn 5 fingers on the way to school. Every couple minutes if she followed those guidelines she would get a point. We never take points away if she slips… just extend the time a little longer.

The whole ride to school I was holding up my hand so she could see it. People driving next to me probably wondered what I was doing, but it was working, so I didn’t care. When she earned her first point, I praised her and gave her lots of encouragement. She calmed right down and the 10-15 minute ride to school was great. She had one little slip of yelling, I just reminded her that I would start the time again for the next point. No other problems. She made it to 5 just as we pulled into the school parking lot. Thank goodness!! I totally would have made her walk in with her socks though.

We use positive motivators all the time because they work so well! I remember when we were first introduced to this method, I thought that sounds an awful lot like bribing your child, but I’ve since learned the difference. Let me take a minute to describe the difference, because if you are new to this I remember being there and thinking that is so backwards. 

Example of a bribe: You bring your child with you to the grocery store. Ugh! Your child falls down on the floor because he wants a toy and you have told him no.  Everyone is staring at you in the store and you give in and give him the toy if he agree to stop screaming and get off the floor and behave the rest of the time.

Positive motivator: Before you go into the same store, you lay out the plan.  “I need to get 5 things today.  If you can (1) stay close to me, (2) have a quiet voice and (3) help me find the items, then I will let you get a little car/toy before we go.”

Did you see the difference? A bribe is something you give in to, you react to the negative behavior and allow them a treat or something they want so that the behavior will stop. It reinforces the negative behavior. The Positive Motivator is a “plan.” Something they have to work towards and is focused on positive behaviors.

By the way, for those of you reading this that have typical kids, this method works well for them too! Our kid’s school uses a positive motivator for our son. They call it a smile chart. He gets a smile if he is doing well at something (he can earn 10 a day). A smile gets him a pom pom ball at home and when he fills a jar he gets to pick a prize (lately a book). He is SO motivated by that!

So, in case you are wondering what we use, we use a basic token chart for Marissa with laminated stars that velcro on and off.

Before we had this, we just used a white board and created boxes (or a piece of paper and stickers). “Fill the boxes and get __________.” It is a super simple way to motivate positive behavior! What they get isn’t always physical things either. It can be a preferred task (going outside, tablet time, playing with slime).

The most important thing to remember if you start implementing this method is be VERY clear HOW they earn their tokens and never take any away unless a serious incident happens. For Marissa, the only way she would lose her tokens is if there is physical aggression.

So, using the example above, I’m going to the grocery store with her. I clearly laid out how she can earn the tokens.
1. Stay close to me.
2. Have a quiet voice.
3. Help me find the items.

In that instance, I would have my 5 star token chart (or use my fingers to keep track) and throughout the shopping trip I would praise her for doing any of those three things and show her every time she earns a token. This encourages her to keep up the positive behaviors because she knows if she fills the chart she gets a toy at the end!

I carry a token board in my purse. When Marissa is having a tough time transitioning with something, I pull it out and most of the time things turn around quickly.

Did I convince you? I hope so! It is time for you to create a little motivator chart for your house!

Marissa's Mom

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