Everything is a video game!


Last night I had my teenage son help me prepare supper. We were making Chicken Étoufée, so there was a lot of: cook this for a while, then add this and cook it some more, then add this other thing, etc, all while stirring continuously.

At one point, I was stirring, and asked him to add the next set of ingredients. He picked up the container of diced vegetables and tipped it over the pan. He then started to jab at the mirepoix with his rubber scraper, flicking little bits of it at a time into the roux.

“You could turn your scraper to more efficiently…,” I began. Then I heard the giggling and saw how the mini vegetable bombs were just missing my stirring hand, the container trying to get into rhythm with arm.

“You turned this into a video game, didn’t you?” Louder giggling. “OK, just be more careful not to get it on the neighboring burners – stoves are a lot of work to clean!”

How to Get Your Tweenager to Clean Her Room

I discovered, quite by accident, how to get my tweenager to thoroughly clean her room. I couldn’t believe all of the garbage that was cleared out. The surfaces were dusted, some for the first time in years (I had given up even trying to find those surfaces some years back)! Dishes I had forgotten even existed showed up in the dishwasher. Toys and clothes were collected for donation to the Goodwill and local church clothing closet. Nothing was shoved under the bed or dresser. All corners of the room were thoroughly vacuumed.

And it was all because I agreed to allow her to redecorate her room. New Ikea furniture and all.

Now how am I going to motivate her to keep her room clean?!

I think it’s going to have to be the old-fashioned, “if you don’t do it, there will be no allowance.”

If You Give a Boy an Allowance…

When my son and daughter were toddlers I did some research on whether or not I should give them an allowance when they got older. Some sources said that you shouldn’t give kids money unless they do work way above and beyond the normal running of the household. They need to learn to be a part of a family and contribute without expecting to be paid, was the reasoning. Others said that an allowance should be tied to their age and not have anything to do with what they do around the house. As they argued, an allowance is an, “allowance,” after all, and not a wage.

The piece of information that tipped the scale for me was that young men with autism, who are high-functioning enough to have jobs, often did not see the point in working. They did not understand the connection between putting in effort on something that maybe isn’t as fascinating as a video game, and receiving pay for that effort. Many also didn’t understand the value of money – that you can buy new video games with it!

So when my kids were in early elementary I started giving them an allowance. Well, really it is more of a wage. But I call it an allowance, simply because that is what most other parents call it. Thankfully, since my kids are only 15.5 months apart and since my older child is the one with autism, that brings their maturity level to, well, the younger one being only slightly older. So I am able to expect the same amount of effort out of both of them and can, therefore, pay them both the same amount of money. Thanks be to God for that! I don’t envy those of you who have to continually explain to the younger ones why they get less money or to the older ones why they have to do more for the same amount of money, depending upon how you work it.

I wasn’t sure how much to give them, so I wrote down everything I expected of them, from getting dressed and brushing their teeth, to cleaning the cat litter and emptying the dishwasher. Then I decided to assign $.05 to each task, since most of them could be completed quite quickly. All told, their allowance added up to $3.50 a week. I required them to tithe at least 10% to our church and required that they save some in a long-term savings account. I will let them have the money when they go to college. I want them to see the benefit of saving a little bit of money over a long time so that they are prepared to save for retirement. Because those of us with autism aren’t big on changing our routines, I realized that the more I could make this allowance experience like an adult’s paycheck experience, the better. So in the end, they had $2.50 to spend every week.

I tried that for a couple of weeks, but found that wasn’t enough money to be meaningful, to my son, in particular. There isn’t much that you can buy for $2.50 these days. At least, not any Lego sets – which is all my son with autism ever wants to buy, unless it is a Lego video game. So I doubled the amount so that they had $5/week to spend.

Now in two to three weeks time, a really cool toy can be saved for. At first I didn’t require them to save for the tax, but by the time they were in upper elementary, they needed to plan for that, too. And I generally do not bail them out at all, even if they are just a penny short. They need to learn that you may not buy something unless you actually have all of the money to buy it, especially when it is something that you don’t actually need. Every once in awhile I will let them make extra money by doing extra jobs around the house. But lately I seldom do that. Both of them will probably end up with a salaried job, and we all know that you don’t get extra pay for extra work when you are salaried. At least not usually. So I want them to learn how to budget and save within that framework.

The two things I love the most about giving them an allowance is that I can say, “Sure you can have that item, if you want to spend your own money on it,” and, “You will not be getting your allowance if you don’t get your chores done.”

Just last year I found another very good use for the allowance. My son, in particular, was having a hard time finding a reason to study enough to get the grades he is capable of getting. So I told him that I wasn’t going to be paying for poor grades. After all, school is his work, and you don’t get paid well at work if you are sloughing off. Our teachers update the electronic grade book weekly, so that the parents can see what their students have been doing. So every week I check the grade book. If there are grades below a B, because my kids truly are capable of A and B work, then allowance money disappears. Generally I take away $1 for a C and $2 for a D or F. That seemed to really get my sons attention, so he is now taking his studying more seriously. It has been keeping him motivated this year, too. He lost a couple bucks last week because he put computer time before study time, but he is back to being motivated to put in the time on his homework this week. Yeah!

So allowance may not be the right thing for every kid, but it has been working for us, so far. Though there are a few other things I would like to use it to teach them as they get older. Like, you can’t spend all of your money on toys – you need to eat, too. I’m not sure how to do that, yet…

Potty-training tips that worked on my kids, anyway…

Since I have a “normal,” or neurotypical (NT) child and a child  with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) here’s a few things that I found worked when it came to potty training.

I honestly don’t remember how I trained my NT child to use the toilet instead of her diaper, because she trained pretty easily. Well, she got an M&M or Skittle every time she used the potty, so that must have been what did it – she was very motivated by treats then. However, while she got the hang of it quickly, as I started tapering off the treats, her interest in using the toilet waned. She would rather continue playing then take time out to use the toilet. It took me a year or so to figure out a way to get her motivated to use the toilet all of the time, without needing to give her treats constantly. Since she wasn’t making it to the bathroom because she felt that wasted her playtime, every time she had an accident, I would make her sit at the kitchen table for 10 minutes. I would remind her that had she just taken time to use the toilet she would already be back playing. This was especially effective because at the time I was watching a friend’s two girls who were my daughter’s age, so it just killed her to sit in the kitchen and miss out on what they were doing.

Treats meant absolutely nothing to my ASD child. He didn’t mind sitting in wet sweatpants. He wasn’t interested in being a big boy or trying to be like daddy. Nothing that was supposed to work on motivating a child worked on him. I tried the whole, fill him with fluids and then get him to the potty in time. He has a strong bladder, so he would normally not go through many diapers in a day. But he would empty himself immediately before I could get him to the bathroom every time. I was at wits end.

So I went to a class on potty-training children on the autism spectrum. There I learned that I needed to do the exact opposite of what is recommended for NT children. The instructor said two things I remember clearly. She said that she had never met a child on the spectrum that she could not potty train. And that it isn’t a pleasant experience for the child or the parent, initially. But it works and everyone ends up ok in the end. Basically, you put the kid on the toilet, fill them up with liquids, then physically hold them on the toilet until they can no longer hold their bladder.

If my son, who was over 3 at the time, would’ve known how to swear, he would’ve been reaming me out. He was screaming and crying and looking at me like I was the worst human to ever walk the face of the earth. I was crying and praying as I kneeled on the bathroom floor straddling the toilet, hugging him and holding him in place. After several minutes he finally could hold it in no longer. So I let him up and matter-of-factly told him that he had done a great job (he doesn’t appreciate grandiose displays of congratulations) and we went to watch some TV with his sister.

I called my mom to let her know the big news, so she asked to talk to my son. Oddly enough, he always loved talking to his grandma on the phone – strange behavior for an ASD person. So he was chatting away with her about what toys he had been playing with that day. Then she brought up that she had heard that he had put a pee in the potty. His response: “Good-bye, Grandma.”

But he had only one accident after that. So the pain was definitely worth the gain!

Don’t let my daughter die!

This was my constant prayer for several weeks earlier this fall.

My then 9-year-old had some sort of upper respiratory illness that would cause her to gag on phlegm, then suck in so much air that she would vomit and choke at the same time. It was terrifying, and nothing seemed to help it – except for a lot of fluids and some strong expectorants that weren’t recommended for children. The doctor ok’d them, though.

In the midst of my terror, I realized that I wasn’t really asking for my daughter’s benefit, but my own. I mean, who was really going to benefit from this prayer? If she stayed here on earth with me, I would get the joy of having her around to chat with, cook with, shop with, laugh with. I would get to watch her pirouetting around the room, or hear her singing or playing the piano. I would get to enjoy her banter with her brother or the silliness she and my husband often concoct. But what would she get out of the deal?

She would have to postpone her trip to the most perfect place ever. She would have to stay here where diseases and dangerous weather patterns and all sorts of other chaos cause her to suffer.

I am thankful that God heard my prayer, but it was comforting to know in the midst of it, that had He chosen to take her, she would have been in a better place.