This morning, I worked with Janey on an on-line reading program her school uses and that you can use at home, Lexia. Janey was happy to use it. She was familiar with it from school, and was able to use the mouse pretty well and do the activities it asked her to. At her level, it's mainly picking a letter, hearing how it sounds and what kind of words it is used it, doing a little game like a puzzle or a find-a-letter picture and then listening to two words and picking the one that starts with the letter you are working on. Janey did well until that last part, and I noticed something odd about how she did on that part. She got the answer wrong EVERY time. There were only 2 letters to pick from, and the program was smart and moved them around after you got it wrong once, and pure chance would say she'd sometimes get it right, but she didn't. And I soon realized why. If you got it wrong twice, the voice said "Let me help you think about this" and then picked the answer for her. Janey echoed "Let me help you think about this" in the exact tone of the computer voice, and laughed like crazy. She had quickly figured out how to get what motivated her, by not getting the answer right.
That made me think how often something like that happens with Janey. She isn't motivated to get things "right", whatever our notion of right is. She isn't motivated to make other people happy. She's motivated by herself---by what makes her happy. So she'll spend long periods of time doing what look to me to be boring apps on the iPad if they make a sound she likes as a reward. She'll work to get at foods we don't want her to have right then, if she can get a bite or two before we start all the yelling and showing her what a mess she made. She doesn't care we are upset---she got what she wanted.
It explains a lot what makes learning hard for Janey. It might not even be so much that learning is hard---it's that motivating her to learn is hard. She can do quite complicated things when she wants to. She's pretty much figured out Netflix instant viewing. She knows if she wants strawberry milk, she needs to bring me milk, the strawberry powder, a glass and a spoon. She can somehow "read" the VHS tapes, even ones without pictures, if it results in the right one being put on. She knows the words to every Christmas song out there, and if you'll sing with her and leave out words, she'll show that. But things she isn't motivated to do? No way. It's why giving her little rewards like M&Ms can bring out knowledge we had no idea on earth she knew, like the time she spelled her last name or said which brother was bigger.
And that's the challenge of autism and learning, right there. How do you get your child to WANT to learn the things they need to learn? I usually have no idea.