Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Motivating your Aspergers Child to learn

As I begin to write this I realise that it is going to be quite a challenge. Any one who has a child with Aspergers will know what I mean- particularly a Home educating parent of an Aspergers child.

The guidelines state that you have to educate your child in accordance with age and ability. Easier said than done if your persepective of education is that of someone who has only ever known 'school'. By that I mean the UK education system sort of schooling.

When I look back to when my son was at school I witnessed the motivators used to encourage my son to 'work'. The teachers bribed him with stickers, offers of half an hour on the computer,time with a book- in fact they tried just about everything to get my son to sit still and write something or read his reading book.

But getting a child with Aspergers motivated like that isn't so simple- the problem is that you need to KNOW the child, REALLY KNOW them.Unfortunately school dynamics with their changing teachers and teaching assistants don't lend themselves to having such an intimate relationship with each individual child.

I remember my son coming home from school with a reading book he had been given.It was well below his ability level ,in fact an insult to his intelligence. He was about seven at the time. I spoke to his teacher and she told me he wouldn't read out loud to her and she hoped to encourage him by giving him an easy book to read so that she could then monitor his reading level. I explained that just because he wouldn't read did not mean that he couldn't and that he was refusing to read this at home because it was too easy and boring. She insisted that it was the appropriate way to go and I returned home feeling frustrated that she hadn't listened to me. My son looked at it and refused to even consider reading it (and when you have a son with ODD there is no point in even arguing with him as he just won't do it). Instead I explained that the teacher had not listened to our views and that we would not read the book because I knew he could do it. Instead would he like to go and choose a book he found interesting. My son came back with his latest encyclopedia, cuddled up with me on the settee and happily read out loud for half an hour.

The trouble with school is that the teachers have to teach what the government want children to know and not many children have much interest in what adults think they 'should' be learning. Children want to learn about hurricanes and earthquakes when they see something on the news or about authors when they read one of their books or plays. The school day is  not that flexible and whilst,some children, particularly girls ,will do what you ask in order to please you , with boys it is much less likely,especially when they are autistic. It's not so much a question of pleasing others rather than "What's in it for me?" 

There have been all sorts of attempts to get young boys to 'engage' with the national curriculum when all they want to do is run around outside with a football . It's not they don't want to learn. It's just that they don't want to learn what they feel isn't relevant to them.That's not to say that the subject will never be relevant but why not teach them when the time is right not because the government have decided that they learn such and such a subject in year 7.

Every child is different and what suited my son may not necessarily be a motivator for someone else's child but I found that he was learning  maths skills from Minecraft, lego or the Kerbal Space programme. and his interest in the planets, skateboarding.and rifle shooting

His reading ,writing and spelling came on leaps and bounds when he began reading books which appealed to him (even books designed for adult readers) and he was able to communicate with on-line friends by typing.  He wasn't  a read/cover/memorise /spell sort of person.He was a whole word learner.He asked me to spell a word and he learnt it.

His love of films covered history, literature,science, geography and shopping covered business management,commercial rates, stocks and shares,even politics.

In fact ,  another parent ,when asked today  if she would use jigsaws as a motivator for her jigsaw loving child once he had finished his 'work' wisely replied." No I would go out and buy jigsaws covered in maps, and flags and animals and presidents in fact every educational jigsaw I could find until his interest in jigsaws had subsided and he was onto his next interest"

Motivating any child, particularly one with Aspergers needs practice and observation.You can't be complacent,no sooner will you find a motivator then your child will focus on something else. There will be 'fallow' periods when they appear to learn nothing and then sudden bursts of excitement as they talk you to death about their latest special interest. There's some luck involved as well. Today for example I came home to find my son sitting reading his encyclopaedia instead of being rooted to his computer. There had, he explained, in my absence been a power cut.

 Seizing the moment I produced two books on military helicopters and the special forces which I had just bought in a charity shop. He snapped them up and read for an hour! 

So don't despair. Our children WANT to learn but it's on their terms not ours.And who knows,,if we follow their guide we may end up being parents to a modern day Einstein!

Recommended reading Motivated Minds Raising children to love learning


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you - lovely comments like that make me realise we are not alone in our 'unusual world'!