Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rewards: They’re Habit-Forming

I do not claim to be a great parent. Some days, I barely qualify to be sentient, and quality parenting goes right out of the window. I think we all have those days.


However, I do try. Bringing up Kiddo means preparing him for the future. In the case of a special needs child, we have a few more challenges than others face. I’ve written on the difficulties of instilling manners. Having my Wild One express anger and frustration in ways that don’t compromise his safety and our big screen television has been a struggle. Potty training happened late in the game.

Hubs and I have gone the usual route. Behavior that Kiddo knows is not tolerated and yet he insists on doing anyway is punished. Video games and much-loved toys are denied. That usually helps him snap back into darling mode. He’ll do just about anything to get his X-box back. Even behave.


If I’m really desperate, I turn to manipulation. I tell Kiddo his behavior makes me angry. Even worse is when I tell him it makes me sad. Because people with autism are profoundly empathetic in most cases, there couldn’t be anything worse than him imagining feeling sad. Please note, I only go this route when things have escalated into ‘I’ve got nowhere else to go to get this child to behave’ mode. I hate manipulating my kid.


Even though certain moments really do bring the tears.

When it comes to teaching new good-habit forming behaviors, a reward system has turned out to be my best ally. It’s a wallet-emptying practice with my kid, but the investment has been more than worth it. For example, it was extremely difficult to break Kiddo of overnight wetting. We were pretty sure he had the means, but not the will. Like many children, on the spectrum and off, you have to make it worth their while to switch a behavior they’re not bothered by. Autism had J-man extremely set in his ways. We had to make it REALLY worth his while to stop wearing overnight diapers. 

At the time, my son was enamored with Angry Birds. He played the games as much as we would let him. Those games made no bones about offering upgrades for a price...a sometimes hefty price. He wanted those upgrades. He begged and pleaded for them. He just had to have them. 

We saw an opportunity. We waved goodbye to our savings account and took it. Each night Kiddo didn’t have an accident, he earned an Angry Bird upgrade. It was an instant hit. Within two weeks, his underwear was dry every morning and I hear the Angry Birds bought a new vacation home in the Bahamas.


They got a few of the real thing from us. I wish I was kidding.

 We figured the money we spent balanced out with the money we saved not buying overnight diapers. Even when Upgrade-a-Palooza was over, the habit had been formed. Kiddo has not had an accident in over a year. 

I’ve begun applying the reward system in other areas of his life. His new passion is the line of toys called Switch-N-Go Dinos. He has a chart on the fridge that allows him to earn points towards these toys. Saying ‘please’ consistently has already gotten him his first reward...and we’re having to remind him to say it a lot less now. Life skill habit instilled. He now makes sure his toys and underwear are picked up at the end of each day, working hard to get that next dino. Not shouting and throwing things in anger is proving a little more difficult to accomplish, but he’s working on it. 

Okay, so we can call this what it is: bribery. However, I have no problem rewarding, perhaps overly much, in my crusade to teach Kiddo how he can best get along in a world that looks at behavioral differences with not so generous eyes. Society is slow to change when it comes to accommodating unseen disabilities, so we have to prompt our son to adjust to society. With empty bank account and dinosaurs that turn into vehicles in hand, I do what I must. 

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