My Choice Deck Motivation Cards Instructions

Motivation in individuals with ASD:

The My Choice Deck cards are specifically designed to act as motivators for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Children with ASD typically are not motivated the same way as individuals who are not on the autism spectrum.

A child without autism will take out his/her math book and turn to the appropriate page at the request of the teacher. Why? Because they don’t want to stand out, look strange to the other kids, get in trouble, upset the teacher, get sent to the principal’s office, have their parents called by the teacher, flunk math, etc. Each of these reasons is socially based and is considered intrinsic motivation. It comes from the child’s social connection to the world and their desire to fit in socially.

As a result of their sensory hypersensitivity, children with autism are not naturally learning from their environment to the same degree as those who do not have ASD, nor are they building the same social connection to the world.

On a day to day basis, most children with autism are not taking in the subtle social environment surrounding them, and so they are not developing a social database of information that has the same depth as those without autism to use as reference or for motivation.

A child with autism, when asked to take out their math book may reply with “Why?” or “I hate math, why would I want to get my math book out?” or “what do I get if I take my math book out?” These questions are a request for motivation to complete a task that the child does not either see the value of, or want to execute. As parents and caregivers, when we can answer the question “What’s in it for them” with something that they relate to, something they want, or something they want to avoid, we have the tools we need to motivate our children extrinsically. It’s important to remember that this behavior has been originated by the child’s difficulty with neurological processing, and this is not a result of a cognitive decision the child has made, or a problem with the child’s character.

Extrinsic motivation is not a bad thing, it is the same motivation most people use to get themselves to go to work in the morning. Most of us would not go to work if we did not get paid, so we are responding to an extrinsic motivation.

Many parents initially respond to this process by feeling that they are “bribing” their child to do things that should come naturally or should be done “just because that is the way we do it.” This is a socially based belief that is not going to support your efforts as a parent of a child with ASD, or help you to motivate your child with autism. The concept of bribery includes dishonesty or illegally requesting a favor, and there is nothing dishonest about finding a motivator for a child with autism. In fact, providing motivation is an act of kindness which helps the child to do what they need to do much more easily.

Many parents worry that they are setting a bad precedent by “paying” a child to do things they should do automatically, and fear that their child will always require the extrinsic motivator to stimulate desired behaviors. In fact, the opposite is often true. Children with autism tend to develop very strong habit patterns, and once the behavior is established in the child’s mind as “the way we do it,” you can wean the child off the extrinsic motivator, and the behavior should continue.

How to use your My Choice Deck:

Your My Choice Deck is designed to give you, as a parent or caregiver, a positive way to help a child with ASD motivate themselves by providing an opportunity for the child to make a choice. This provides the child with a sense of control, an experience of being accountable for their choice, and an experience of the connection between their choice and the outcome. When you begin to use your deck, establish the time frame that you think will be most appropriate for your child. This may be a month for some children, but if your child is younger or needs more immediate feedback, you can use a shorter time frame as long as you are consistent and specific about when the time frame starts and stops. The last day of the timeframe is PAYDAY.

Prior to presenting the My Choice Deck to the child, sort through the motivation deck and select 10-12 cards (or as many as you feel are appropriate if they were all redeemed during the timeframe you have selected) which have options of which you approve. In addition to the 23 standard options provided, there are 7 blank cards included in the deck which allow you to create your own options.

Next, determine what motivates your child the best. Is it video game time, money, getting out of a specific chore, or perhaps chicken nuggets from McDonald’s? Select only one primary motivator for each card, and write that reward on the front of each card you selected in the area that says:

“This card can be redeemed for: ___________.”

It’s important to this process that these rewards be something that the child really values and loves, or it will not be motivating. The child must want to keep the cards (and earn the rewards on PAYDAY) enough that it will motivate them to do (or not do as the case may be) what is on the card.  You can use different motivators on different cards. Prepare the cards by writing what bonus they earn on PAYDAY if they do not use the card before the end of the designated time frame. The last day of the time frame is PAYDAY. On PAYDAY, all cards that are still in the child’s possession are redeemed for their stated value.

For example, if your child is motivated by money, but hates to take a shower, it would look like this:

Find the card that says “Get out of my shower today!”
At the bottom, write:
This card can be redeemed for: $4.00

It is recommended that you start by using about 10-12 cards per month, or about 2-3 cards per week, but the number you use is up to you. The redemption value that you assign to each card is also completely up to you, but make sure it is motivating to the child. This could be, for example, $5.00, or Dinner at McDonald’s, or a new video game. You could even use ½ of a video game on 2 different cards so the child would need to keep both to earn the video game at the end.

Once the cards are prepared, sit down with your child and make sure they clearly understand the time frame. Use a visual such as a calendar, so that the child has a concrete idea of the number of days until PAYDAY, and keep the visual handy for the child to use for reference later if needed.

Explain to the child that these cards are designed to give them more control over what they do each day, and to help them make choices. If needed, use this diagram to explain what a choice is:

Be sure to include in your explanation that making a choice has outcomes and use this diagram with a couple of examples to support the child’s understanding of a choice. Also reinforce that they have control over the final outcome through the choice they make because there is a connection between their choice and the outcome. This supports building accountability which often does not come naturally to children with ASD.

Give the prepared cards to the child and explain to them that at the end of the time period, on PAYDAY, any cards that they have remaining in their possession can be traded for the redeemable value (the motivator) that you wrote on the line at the bottom of each card.

Now the time frame begins. When a child does not want to do something or requires motivation, you explain that they can “spend” one of their cards in order to earn the freebie that is on the card. So, if your child does not want to shower, you can tell them that they can trade the “Get out of my shower today” card, for the opportunity to skip their shower. Once they have used up this card, they cannot get another one until the time period ends and you start again, so ask them to think carefully if they want to trade their card. Walk through the process of explaining both what the outcome will be if they DO use their card and what the outcome would be if they DON’T use their card. Help your child think through upcoming situations and future days when that card may be more valuable to them, and then honor their choice. If they are upset later because they do not have the card to trade at another time when they would rather use it, or to trade at the end of the time period for what they want, and you hold the line (this is harder than it sounds) you will be making progress!

It is recommended that you continue this process for at least six months to support your child in learning the following:

  • Making good choices
  • Executive Functioning
  • Accountability
  • Consequences to their actions

We hope that you both have fun and find this a learning experience for both you and your child.

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