‘Motivating Asperger kids’ – a tutor’s story

A HUGE obstacle in teaching Aspie kids is engaging their interest and motivating them.  Unless motivated, these kids will simply not retain learning.  And since these kids tend to be have problems reading ‘social cues’, usual motivation techniques, which involve some forms of ‘social pressure’ will fail to motivate them.

This can lead to frustration on all sides!  Teachers/tutors, parents and the kids themselves!

Following is an excellent account Lorraine has sent in, about her experiences of tutering two Aspie boys and SUCCEEDING by MOTIVATING them.  Please note:  the story is as Lorraine had written it, with only minor editing.  The emphassis, however, is my addition.

It was very interesting to read the mail posted on his site.  I am tutoring spelling to a 10 and an 11 year old boy with Aspergers.
Until I met these boys at the beinning of 2007, I had never heard of the condition.  I am amazed at how intelligent these boys are compared to other ‘normal’ children. They love facts and tell me things that outstand me, that a young boy of his age could know those things.

The reason these boys are coming to me is that they have problems with reading and writing. They were at the very bottom of their classes at first and have now come to second top, and fourth from the top.
One teacher commented to the parent, “How can she teach him 10 words in one hour and I can’t teach him one word in a week.”

I hope my crazy methods will work for others as well, and that is why I have decided to post here.  Who knows, maybe the ideas might be helpful to someone else!

We don’t do spelling when they are here in the way that you would expect. We invent things we are going to do the week before, so that they know what we are doing before they come here.  This seems to be pretty important, planning ahead.

The boys come here on different days to each other.

With one boy, we made a coffee table that his mother is so proud of she nearly cried. Another time he did a lovely painting in oils using my good oil paints and a big canvas. On this he painted a dragon, it was beautiful. Next he got to use real tools and made a four piece candle holder complete with candles in little dishes. The list goes on.

Back to the table. We went to the local op-shop and bought a “daggy coffee table” for three dollars. Then we bought a pile of plates, about 20, in his favourite colours. He chose the plates himself, not me. The plan was to use tools and sander to refresh the table, and break the plates to use as tiles to do a mosiac on top.

Each step was pre-planned and fun motivation to learn.

Each step was pre-planned and fun motivation to learn.

We went back to my place and for every word he spelled correctly three times, he got to go outside, place a plate in the bag and break it with a hammer. It wasn’t too long before he had enough smashed china to make the top of the table. He spelt a lot of words, had a lot of fun and laughter, and overall enjoyed himself. That part took two visits each for one hour.

The following week, he got to work on the wood with with my small electric sander. Same thing, spell the word and get to do a section of the table. That took a couple of weeks. The exciting thing for him then was to be able to do a drawing on the table.

The folowing week, he worked out his design and the pieces he would put in the places he chose. The week after that he glued his pieces where he thought they would belong.  However that was a slow process and it took two weeks also.

The following week, he got to grout his tiles. That took a long time and we had arranged to ring his Mum when it was finished. He had done a beautiful job on it. This also had a dragon. He had chosen his own colours and I was a bit dissapointed when he chose the colours he did, but I didn’t say so, and it was just as well I didn’t because his table is wonderful.

The project took a whole term, he learnt all his words, wrote several sentences each day, gained confidence in the class room. He became a bit more friendly with his teacher and so the tantrums and frustration have lessened.

Other things we did were collecting a bucket full of gumnuts, putting them through a polisher and used the colourful little things to make a fish statue, he did a beautiful job.

What comes through to me is that if there is a reason or a reward that appeals, he ceases to find study to be so painful. It works well.

I have only two students with aspergers, but I have found them both to be very interested in making things that they can use, being very creative as they do, and if not interferred with will do a very good job.

Motivating kids to learn - a truly creative method!

Motivating kids to learn - a truly creative method!

The important thing is to plan ahead so that when they get here, they know what to expect. If I slip up on that aspect of it they don’t seem to emit the same enthusiasm. They seem to feel let down and I get guilty.

Of course as everyone will know, thay are not too keen on instruction, so drawing and planning ahead eliminates the need for further instruction.

Well I hope you don’t mind my sticking my beak in here, but I am so enthusiastic about the results and at how pleased the mothers and fathers are, I just wanted to share this.

Thank you.

And, thank you, Lorraine, for sharing this wonderful story and your insights!