A Parent with Asperger’s Take on Rules, Rewards, and Encouragement for his Special Aspie Child

Rules picture

Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

Rules. An Aspie’s blessing and curse.

Blessing in the sense that rules help the person with Asperger’s to function by following a set of prescribed actions while avoiding a set of proscribed actions. Actions that an Aspie lacks intuitive capacity to discern governing rules.

A curse in the sense that all human rules fail to be universally applicable, giving rise to ambiguity, nuance, and confusion for the Aspie. The literal thinking process, unique to Asperger’s Syndrome, struggles with ambiguity. Often I have experienced confusion and, sometimes, bewilderment, at what others take to be obvious.

Rules may often be associated with obligation. Obligation may be understood as a state or condition in which an individual is morally, legally, or duty bound to a certain act or course of actions. For an individual with Asperger’s, obligation is less about morality, legality, or duty and more about comprehension, comfort, and security in the human condition. Ambiguity is the enemy of people with Asperger’s / Autism Spectrum Disorder.

To assist our special Aspie, and help his parents retain what little semblance of sanity remains, we have established a number of routines in the house, with clearly specified rules and incentives. One example is the morning routine. There are certain tasks that our special Aspie must complete to earn iPad time (15 minutes, per-day limit) and / or watching a favorite show on Netflix. Right now its Voltron. (Pleased to admit I introduced him to Voltron, a fave of mine as a child and is still).

During the school year, there is a specific time by which our special Aspie must complete his morning routine. Each day is a different experience in effort, motivation, and the level of assistance he may require. As parents, we can struggle with discerning the type of day and, thus, how much independence our special Aspie may be capable. Always striving to strike a balance between assisting our special Aspie to develop independence without undercutting that process through providing too much assistance.

We have found that the combination of rules and rewards seem to work best for our special Aspie (and his Aspie OddDad). Married with this structural aspect of how we parent is verbal encouragement designed and intended to inculcate certain values and ethical commitments. Chief among these is complimenting our special Aspie and his special sibling for their commitment to work toward completing an assigned task.

We adopted this approach as a result of (no surprise, were eggheads, geeks, nerds) research we did on how to parent. Which means, my lovely wife did the research and I have largely tried to follow her lead, recognizing that she has far more talent and intellectual capacity on this subject than I. Please allow me to emphasize that we are a partnership, sometimes she leads, sometimes I follow, and vice versa.

On my view, this partnership approach best leverages, for the benefit of the couple relationship and our family, what strengths each bring to our relationship while compensating for any weaknesses likewise brought.

The result is my lovely wife feels valued, equal, trusted, and secure in our relationship, as do I. Fortunately, we were friends for a couple years before we serendipitously ended up dating. During our friendship and, then, dating, I could not help but notice that, in a few instances, where I was weak, she was strong, and where I was strong, she was weak. That complimentarity has proven a necessary part of the bedrock upon which our relationship is built and, especially, to becoming aware, accepting, managing, and embracing Autism in our family.

The research my lovely wife suggested I review, is a rich scientific literature, developed over several decades, that explores how children respond to different types of praise. That literature is in wide agreement that children respond best to praise given for their effort to complete a task rather than a focus on the quality or quantity of the work product. One may explore this research through a simple scholar.google.com search using the search string, ‘praise child for hard work’. Or, use this link.

We have noted that tone of voice matters as much as word choice. We employ a higher pitch voice to communicate some degree of astonishment followed by a lower pitch voice to communicate sincerity and love. Touch is critical. ALWAYS utilize touch, if able. I recognize that the spectrum can include individuals for whom being touched is especially difficult. You know your child best, do adapt to the unique needs of your child.

The important point, is to communicate warmth, love, and satisfaction for the effort your child made to complete a task rather than focusing on outcome. We have observed that our children have developed a healthy and happy attitude toward work. Our experience confirms the scientific findings of praising a child.

Praise the child’s effort and work. Doing so will benefit your child in the long run through inculcating a strong commitment to completing a task or accomplishing a goal with relatively limited fear of failure. Following rules takes effort, noting the effort your child makes to follow a rule (routine), contributes to their willingness to continue doing so, and confidence in the rule (routine).

Last, here’s a rule for parents. Read to your kids. And other OddDads, that means you!

Research has likewise shown that single most significant predictor of high ACT scores (university and college entrance exam) is kids to whom a parent read regularly, nearly daily.

Here’s the dad part to this rule: the single best predictor (not the only, moms!) of a child’s ability to read is whether or not their dad read to them during childhood. Dad’s, put the remote down, the adult beverage can wait, work ain’t going anywhere, stop playing with yourself (figuratively and literally speaking), take five or ten minutes to connect with your child through reading to them — regularly.

As a parent, if you want to positively effect your child throughout their life, then read to them. They’ll thank you, you’ll grow closer to your kids as they will to you, and you’ll contribute to keeping democracy strong through cultivating your kid’s capacity to make political decisions, required of all citizens of democratic-republics, based on reason, not passion.

As James Madison, third US President and person most responsible for the US Constitution said, “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” For passion, is what got the US in its current political predicament.Trumpery blows.

“Can I pardon myself?” Really? What a selfish %&$#@!

PS – Trumpery is an actual word, look it up, it fits.



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