With motivation, people can accomplish amazing things. They can lose weight, run a marathon, learn new skills, climb mountains or throw themselves out of planes. Most people find motivation on their own and without the help of others, sometimes they need a gentle push. People get inspired and use that to their advantage to do things that they might not otherwise attempt to do.
For kids on the spectrum, motivators are often found by the parents. They vary as greatly as the individuals on the spectrum themselves. Some have a favorite toy, others a reward system like stickers. Some get rewarded with food like McDonald’s fries or a favorite fruit.
We had never really found a motivator for Bianca. She certainly liked particular things, but not to the point at which they could be used as a reward. Bianca is an interesting eater. There are certain textures that she will not touch. She will not eat anything even remotely viscous… no mashed potatoes, no yogurt, no applesauce, no pudding. She will eat ice cream... but it is a mess because her enjoyment of touching something cold supersedes the actual eating of the ice cream. Usually she eats raw veggies and fruit, meat, corn, peas… as healthy as she eats though, she LOVES sweets. Oreo cookies are a favorite (just the cream), Chips Ahoy drive her mad and she loves chocolate.
I knew she liked chocolate bars, but one day we gave her some M&M’s. There was something about those colorful little morsels of chocolaty goodness that really gets Bianca going. I have watched her put furniture together to make steps to get to the M&M’s in our cupboard. I have seen Bianca devour a bag of them in a matter of seconds. It is really quite impressive. Bianca is not the neatest eater in the world, but when she eats M&M’s out of that little flimsy bag they come in, not a single one hits the ground. She picks them out like she was on a hot streak playing Operation.
One day we bought a big bag of M&M’s for the house. On occasion, we would grab a handful and put them in a little dish for the kids to eat. Bianca would then usually hog them and not share. We will work on that lesson eventually too.
Bianca was standing at the baby gate leading to the kitchen the other day, and I could tell she wanted something. She was jumping up and down frantically and was very excited. I grabbed a banana and showed it to her but she pushed it back. I filled her sippy cup with juice and presented it to her… she flung it to the ground.
|Bianca's "Whoa as me!" face circa 2007.|
I opened the gate and asked Bianca to show me what she wanted. She streaked past me to the cabinet that had the M&M’s in them then grabbed my hand and pushed it towards the cabinet to open it. Realizing that she wanted the M&M’s, I told Bianca she couldn't have any until after we ate and I escorted her back to the other side of the baby gate. This was not the answer she wanted to hear. She jumped up and down feverishly now with an anguished look on her face that only she can make. If you have not had the pleasure of seeing her “Whoa as me!” face, it is heartbreaking and makes you immediately want to give her anything she wants no matter how outlandish the request.
“Sorry Binks! No M&M’s right now” I said as I turned my back to Bianca and picked up the sippy cup.
“MORE M&M’s PLEASE!”
What? Who said that? It couldn’t have been… I turned and looked at Bianca.
“What did you say Binks?”
“MORE M&M’s PLEASE!” Bianca shouted as she signed for “More Candy Please”
I couldn’t believe it. Just like that… her first verbal request, her first complete non-echolalia sentence. I waited 6 years to hear that. It was glorious.
To say the least, waiting until after eating to get M&M’s flew out the window as I raced to grab the candy and give it to her. I heaped praise on her but it was clear to me that she was not in the business of speaking to get some heart-felt praise. She was in it for the chocolate.
Since it was about that time, while I was holding the bag of M&M’s I asked Bianca if she had to go potty. Right away she signed, “Potty” and muttered it under her breath. I gave her another piece of candy. When we got up to the bathroom, Bianca opened the lid and put her toilet seat on the commode. Since I had a captive audience, I spent the time on the potty waiting for her to do her business asking her to repeat words for M&M’s .
One by one she started repeating. And not even with the typical, echolalial “say” in front of every word I asked her to say and even a couple of small sentences. She pointed to body parts and labeled them. She pointed at me and called me “daddy”. I even got to hear her say, “I love you,” again. Worth every penny we paid for the gigantic bag of candy.
We use them often now and rarely give her one without making her work for it. Unfortunately, the novelty does appear to be wearing off on her. So before everybody runs out and buys a ton of candy, we are noticing that it isn’t working as well as it did at first. I will take it though. It was a breakthrough, a moment that a year ago I would have never thought possible. It gives me hope that we will have other breakthroughs in the future and that Bianca is in there just waiting for us to pull her through the cloud of autism.
So autism parents out there. Keep fighting. Keep working with your kids. I can’t guarantee you that you will have the same type of results, but the time you spend with your child is priceless. Even if you don’t achieve what you hope for, the bonding is so important. Do everything that you must do to ensure that your child will reach their full potential. Never give up.
For now though, my family now understands what M&M's stand for... "Miraculous and Motivating".
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